GOP hopefuls for Senate, governor may divide convention
If state Sen. Dave Thompson doesn’t win the Republican endorsement for governor this weekend, his campaign is over.
Thompson said he'll live with the will of convention delegates because it's the best way for Republicans to win back the governor's office. Unity now, "gives us the best chance of beating Mark Dayton in November."
Some of his competitors don't see it that way, however, and that's set the stage for something rarely seen at political conventions: intrigue.
Democrats and Republicans hold their state conventions this weekend, but most of the drama will come from the Republicans in Rochester as GOP contenders line up to try to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton.
In an unusual situation for Republicans, many of their party candidates say they will rely on primary voters, not convention delegates, to decide who's on the ballot in November.
Thompson and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson say they'll abide by the endorsement for the sake of the GOP's fight against Dayton.
"If we've nominated a strong candidate," Johnson said, "it's a little bit harder to get in and say, 'Okay, now I'm going throw a monkey wrench into it and make the Republican candidate spend the next two and a half months fighting another Republican and spending money.'"
Two other GOP gubernatorial hopefuls -- former House Speaker Kurt Zellers and businessman Scott Honour -- are planning primary campaigns.
Another candidate, former state Rep. Marty Seifert, said he's keeping an open mind about running in the primary but that the endorsement remains valuable.
"When the county Republicans put their parade units together only the endorsed candidates signs go on the hay wagon," said Seifert, who lost the GOP endorsement in the last governor's race four years ago.
"When you go to party-sponsored functions you, as the endorsed candidate, are allowed to speak, unendorsed candidates usually are not," he added. "So I believe that it brings with it press attention, donor resources, campaign workers and just a whole variety of things."
A similar endorsement dynamic is at work in the Republican contest to nominate a candidate to run against Franken.
Several Republicans are vying for the spot on the November ballot, but only two of the leading candidates -- state Sen. Julianne Ortman and St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg -- say they will end their campaigns if delegates endorse someone else.
The people who will make the endorsement decision are best positioned to pick the right candidate, Ortman said.
"They do all of the heavy lifting. They're the folks that are going to bring our candidate across the finish line," she said. "They know which of our candidates is the best -- the one that can win in their communities."
Going to a primary doesn't make any sense if Republicans want to beat Franken, Dahlberg said. "It's only by getting behind an endorsed candidate do we win."
Although the endorsement is non-binding, the delegates who will make the decision are often the most active members of the party and discounting their work could hurt a candidate's ability to gain enough support to win a primary.
That hasn't deterred businessman Mike McFadden, who said he's planning a primary campaign should someone else win the endorsement.
Ortman and Dahlberg have suggested McFadden is trying to buy the election. McFadden, though, considers his business background and political outsider status to be selling points. He feels the same way about the money he’s been able to raise.
McFadden said he'd "love to win" the Republican endorsement, but that his campaign will live on if he doesn't get it.
"My goal is to beat Al Franken," he said. "That's what we think about every day and this is just another step -- to try to win this non-binding endorsement."