Tuesday, May 27, 2014

MNGOP State Convention Preview

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.


This Friday and Saturday, 2200 elected delegates will meet at the Republican Party of Minnesota state convention to endorse candidates for US Senate (Friday) and Governor (Saturday). 60% is the magic percentage to endorse a candidate for office, while 50% + 1 is necessary to vote no endorsement when that motion is in order (more on that here).

What's At Stake

Branding: Endorsed candidates claim legitimacy by receiving an official endorsement from the party. They gain access to the party voter file and are allowed to attend official GOP events at all levels of the party. In contrast, their primary opponents are barred from attending such events in conjunction with the official party.

Infrastructure: Unlike the 2012 cycle, the state party actually has funding to run a field campaign. The MNGOP has hired a number of staffers to manage a network of field offices ahead of the primary and general elections. These field offices will support endorsed candidates ahead of the primary.

Clearing the Field: When a candidate pledges to abide by the endorsement, it means they will drop out of the race if they lose said endorsement (and an endorsement is issued in the race). That means state Senator Julianne Ortman will drop out of the US Senate race if she loses the endorsement to businessman Mike McFadden, and state Senator Dave Thompson or Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson will drop out of the gubernatorial race after Saturday if they fail to secure the endorsement themselves.


Five viable candidates are competing for the gubernatorial nomination.
  • Businessman Scott Honour
  • Former Speaker Kurt Zellers
  • Jeff Johnson 
  • Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert 
  • Dave Thompson
Scott Honour / Kurt Zellers: Both Zellers and Honour have said they are going straight to the primary. Honour is seeking but not abiding by the endorsement, while Zellers has only confirmed he will attend the convention. Honour has dominated fundraising and will command the airwaves, while Zellers will attempt to tie his record leading the House after 2010 into a mandate for the nomination against Mark Dayton (with whom he sparred repeatedly as Speaker). Neither made an effort to elect their supporters as delegates, and those that are supporting them are likely to vote no endorsement.
Marty Seifert: Seifert has not confirmed it but is expected to seek but not abide by the convention endorsement. Seifert retains name recognition and good will after dropping out of the 2010 gubernatorial race at that year's state convention, endorsing and campaigning for then-state Rep. (and soon to be Congressman) Tom Emmer. Seifert's fundraising has only begun to pick up after a late entry into the race. A resident of Marshall, Seifert is strongest in the 7th congressional district and outstate more generally. He is expected to perform strongly and has a good chance to win the endorsement. One wildcard is that, if Seifert does not have the votes to win an endorsement, he may flip his support to no endorsement. However, a certain block of Seifert supporters will want an endorsement and may not accept that outcome, just as some Thompson / Johnson supporters may support Seifert as balloting extends past the first few ballots.

Jeff Johnson: Johnson was the first viable candidate to jump into the race, a former state Senator and RNC Committeeman with a base in the western suburbs (unsurprisingly, he is strongest in the 3rd congressional district). He has built strong ties with Paulites in the state and has strong support from Tea Partiers as well. But while Tea Party groups are strong in Minnesota, the liberty wing is disorganized after the Kurt Bills campaign's implosion and less of a factor at this year's convention. Johnson struggled to recruit a runningmate, ultimately settling on a moderate former legislator from Rochester, Bill Kuisle, and his fundraising has been weak. His campaign never recovered from a third-place showing in a February straw poll conducted during precinct caucuses, harming the early momentum he built in a previous straw poll. Johnson has been calling delegates and telling them to support Thompson if he gets knocked out early.

Dave Thompson: The former radio host and Lakeville state Senator boasts the strongest strength in the 2nd congressional district. There is not much separating him from Johnson ideologically, although Johnson made some tough votes while Pawlenty was Governor (Thompson was elected in 2010). Thus, Thompson too maintains strong support among local Tea Party groups and Paul supporters. Thompson has also struggled with fundraising, despite recently naming a finance chairman for his campaign. However, Thompson picked a strong candidate for Lt. Governor, fellow state Senator Michele Benson, a well-liked legislator across factional lines who can emphasize her work on health care policy as the MNSure debacle continues to unfold. He is also temperamentally different from Johnson, who is more Minnesota Nice; Thompson has the style of a radio pundit at times. Thompson has maintained strong momentum since taking an unexpected second (to first-place finisher Seifert) in the February straw poll. Thompson should pick up Johnson's support if / when the latter is pushed out of balloting.

Ultimate Prediction: Thompson after at least five ballots.

US Senate

Four viable candidates are running for US Senate.
  • Mike McFadden
  • Julianne Ortman
  • State Rep. Jim Abeler
  • St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg
Mike McFadden: Only one candidate has raised an adequate amount of money to run for US Senate, and that is Norm Coleman and the NRSC's favored candidate, Mike McFadden. McFadden has built a professional operation with that money and has been serious about identifying and contacting delegates. But the campaign feels consultant-heavy and has attracted the ire of the same type of delegates who are turning out for Johnson and Thompson in the gubernatorial race. While McFadden is a blank slate as a candidate, his unwillingness to stake clear positions (besides saying he supports "limited and effective government") has made his supporters overshadow himself. McFadden has a shot at the endorsement, but he should consider it a victory if the convention delivers no endorsement. Either way, he will be spending freely to take the primary.

Julianne Ortman: McFadden might have more of a problem if a clear, insurgently conservative alternative emerged. Ortman is one of the two closest things to that. She talks a lot about gun rights (with strong support from the local Gun Owners Civils Rights Alliance) and NSA overreach in her campaign, and she's armed with an endorsement from the Mama Grizzly herself, Sarah Palin. However, questions dog the extent of her conservatism after some tough votes in the Pawlenty years, and she has never had the reputation of the likes of Thompson or Minority Leader David Hann among colleagues during her tenure. The Carver County legislator won the precinct caucus straw poll, but support in this race is incredibly fluid (the Senate race has been overshadowed by the five-way gubernatorial slugfest). Ortman's fundraising has been lackluster but much stronger than any non-McFadden candidate, with almost $1 million raised throughout the campaign thus far. Ortman has pledged to abide by the endorsement and has a real shot at taking it.

Jim Abeler: Abeler is a very personable man, and his stump speech has markedly improved since he entered the race, stressing his health care expertise and future for his granddaughter. However, he has never been able to shake the moderate reputation he garnered after voting with Democrats to override then-Governor Pawlenty's veto of a transportation bill, among other deviations from Republican orthodoxy. He will not win the endorsement and has already announced he is all in and headed for the primary. After raising less than $20k last quarter, it is hard to see him making a dent in the battle between McFadden and Ortman.

Chris Dahlberg: On paper, Dahlberg should be a strong candidate in this race. A St. Louis County Commissioner, he has won elections in deep-blue turf. He has the active support of Stan Hubbard, the media mogul and one of the most important Republican financiers in the state. And his messaging has managed to portray him as both a moderate and friendly to the 10th amendment, pro-gun rights talk so often encountered among Tea Party supporters. But thus far, Dahlberg has failed to gain traction. He has a chance to beat expectations though, as nobody has dug up (or at least released) a bunch of tough votes from his time on the county commission, and he has contacted the delegates as well as one can running a campaign from Duluth. Expect Paulites distrustful of Ortman to look at Dahlberg, even though they lack the numbers to really sway this convention. Ultimately, Dahlberg is worth watching to see who he endorses; he has pledged to abide and presumably will throw his support to someone. He has lobbed a lot of attacks at Ortman, presumably to claim the mantle of conservative insurgent from her in the race.

Ultimate Prediction: No endorsement on the tenth ballot.

Other Convention Races
All constitutional offices will be voted upon on Friday.

Secretary of State: After Dennis Nguyen dropped his bid, two candidates emerged: one-term former state Senator John Howe of Red Wing and former state Senator from central Minnesota and 2010  SoS nominee Doc Severson. Severson has now appeared before the state convention twice (after running for US Senate in 2012), and since his 2010 loss has worked on minority outreach through the Minority Liberty Alliance. He is likely to easily defeat Howe, who could just run for his old Senate seat in 2016.

Auditor: Randy Gilbert, former mayor of Long Lake, will win a unanimous endorsement.

Attorney General: While this endorsement was previously moved after the other races to allow a dropout to run, state Senator Scott Newman of Hutchinson will now run and is not expected to face opposition.

Party offices: Delegates to the State Central Committee will elect a new Deputy Chair (to replace Kelly Fenton, who is running for state House in Woodbury) and Secretary on Thursday. The Deputy Chair race features a rematch between Secretary Chris Fields, who ran against Keith Ellison in MN-05 in 2012, and CD 2 activist Ryan Love. Love, who emphasizes his IT background, should perform stronger than he did in his first matchup with Fields, but it is unclear if he can pull out a victory. In the Secretary race, CD 6 activist Heather Todd is expected to win an easy victory.

Other Resources

Politics.MN's predictions for the convention
. Say what you will about Michael Brodkorb,former MNGOP Deputy Chairman, but he is a decent pundit.

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