I was honored and privileged to be part of the festive atmosphere at the MN GOP State Convention this past weekend. As a first-time delegate, I was heavily engaged in all of the proceedings. The convention began Thursday evening with the usual business of platform and credential reports as well as rules adoption.
But then the fun began.
After unanimous endorsements of candidates Dan Severson (Secretary of State) and Chris Barden (Attorney General), the State Auditor endorsement was expected to be a spirited battle. While so-called "establishment candidate" Pat Anderson was expected to prevail, Long Lake mayor Randy Gilbert left a lasting impression with his campaign the prior few months and then delivered a fantastic speech Thursday before the delegates. As a result, Gilbert garnered 32% of the vote on the first ballot. Jeff Wiita, who continually emphasized that he was the only candidate with CPA credentials, also put forth a respectable showing with 18%. Wiita withdrew his name from consideration after the second ballot but refused to endorse either of the remaining two candidates. Tom Conlon, a fourth candidate, withdrew his name from consideration during his initial remarks and thus threw his support behind Anderson. At approximately 1:30 a.m., just before third ballot results would be announced, Gilbert withdrew from consideration and Anderson was endorsed as the GOP candidate for State Auditor.
After getting about three hours rest, I arrived back at the Minneapolis Convention Center at 8:40 am Friday in anticipation of a 9:00 start. On this day, I decided to take a seat in blogger row amongst the likes of Kevin Ecker, Eric Black, Craig Westover, Mitch Berg, Leo Pusateri and Chad "The Elder" Doughty.
To me, that was one of my favorite parts of the convention! We thoroughly enjoyed documenting the event live (via our blogs, Facebook and Twitter) as well as entertaining ourselves with the "Tweets" of other convention goers.
But the reason many delegates showed up was for the endorsement of a gubernatorial candidate. While five candidates would be on the initial ballot, it was pretty clear it would come down to MN state legislators Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert. The salient issue over the past several months is that there was little distinction between the two on a legislative basis (both solid pro-life and fiscal conservatives). While many argued that Emmer (my personal choice for Governor) had the broader conservative vision, others ascertained that Seifert was more electable, a trait of vast importance in outstate Minnesota where they tend to lean Democrat. But within the past few weeks the Seifert camp really stepped up its efforts to gain an advantage in vying for GOP endorsement. Most controversial was a letter sent by Sandra Berg, a delegate out of Chisago County. Said letter drudged up two DWI arrests of Emmer occurring twenty and thirty years ago. The letter also inferred that those arrests may have been the catalyst for Emmer supporting legislation weakening drunk driving laws.
There were also some rather inane (if not humorous) attempts at lowering Emmer's status as a conservative. It was learned early Friday (the day of the gubernatorial endorsement) that former Senator Norm Coleman endorsed Emmer's candidacy for Governor. As a result, some Seifert supporters emphasized Coleman's record of anti-ANWR drilling and corporate bailouts and thus tried to project those issues onto Emmer. Only in Minnesota could it be implied that a legislator from Delano is a "big city establishment" candidate. Naturally, these same people failed to mention that Sarah Palin also endorsed Emmer. Given their respective political stances, Coleman and Palin can hardly be considered interchangeable.
But I digress.
When the first ballots were being passed out, I rushed back to my BPOU section, put on my delegate hat and cast my vote for Emmer. While awaiting results I rushed back to the "press pit". While there, my co-bloggers and I discussed what the results may look like. Ecker mentioned that if campaign sign volume amongst supporters was any indication, Emmer would be up 55-45. Sure enough, the first ballot had Emmmer at 53%, Seifert 43% and the remaining three candidates compiling the rest. Since Phil Herwig, Bill Haas and Leslie Davis each failed to garner the minimum 5% on ballot one, they were no longer eligible for endorsement. Both Haas and Herwig subsequently endorsed Seifert while giving their exiting remarks. Davis mumbled something incoherently but ultimately did not throw his weight behind anyone.
The second ballot figured to be closer given the lower tier candidates urged their supporters to back Seifert. However, Emmer's vote total increased by 56 votes while Seifert had a gain of only 17. But since Emmer was still 81 votes shy of the required 60%, a third ballot would commence. However, Seifert asked to address the convention as ballots were being passed around. It was then that Seifert graciously conceded and enthusiastically asked his supporters to back Tom Emmer as our next Governor of Minnesota!
Seifert also announced that he will retire from the MN legislature and go back to his family in Marshall. But don't look for this to be the end of Marty Seifert in politics altogether. The prevailing wisdom is in two years Seifert may challenge 20-year Congressman Collin Peterson in CD7, provided 2010 GOP candidate Lee Byberg does not win this November.
So now, possibly the most conservative Minnesota gubernatorial candidate in my lifetime has the daunting task of winning a statewide election. However, he may have an advantage in that the DFL is still squabbling over whom their candidate will be. Even though Margaret Anderson Kelliher received the endorsement last week, candidates Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza are dipping into their personal fortunes in an attempt to win the August 10 primary. That means the GOP will have a three month head start in campaigning now that their candidate has been selected.
Let's do this thing!