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Seifert takes first in GOP poll

Carol Campbell of Bemidji reads up on governor candidate Tom Emmer Saturday as she tries to decide among three candidates. She was preparing to vote in a straw poll at the Republican state convention.

ST. PAUL -- Marty Seifert took an early lead in the first statewide measure of Minnesota's Republican 2010 governor race.

The state representative from Marshall collected 37 percent of the vote in a GOP state convention straw poll, a convincing victory in a nine-candidate field.

Finishing second was Rep. Tom Emmer, getting 23 percent in the non-binding poll. In third with 14 percent was former State Auditor Pat Anderson.

Seifert, who resigned as Republican House leader to run for governor, said he was surprised to receive such a strong showing from both urban and rural convention delegates.

Many rural delegates who may have supported him were "duck hunting or farming" Saturday, he said after it took two and a half hours to count slightly more than 1,000 votes.

Seifert said his victory will help him raise money and attract volunteers.

Emmer was thrilled to finish second to Seifert, who has much more statewide name recognition from his time as a legislative leader.

"This is a great spot to be in after just 10 weeks," said Emmer, who represents the Delano area.

The straw poll showed him where he needs to work.

"Obviously, we didn't spend enough time up north," Emmer said, adding that he also needs to work harder in western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District.

Anderson, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Dellwood, said her goal was to finish in the top three. She said she continued to work full time during the early campaign, while other candidates campaigned full time.

She said she expects the field to narrow after the straw poll.

"I think you are going to see several candidates over the next week to get out of the race," she said.

But all candidates initially said they plan to remain active.

Trailing the top three were Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, 12 percent; Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria, 5 percent; Leslie Davis of Minneapolis, 1 percent; former Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin, 1 percent; Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel, 1 percent; and Phil Herwig, 1 percent. There also were several write-in candidates and some delegates submitted blank ballots.

In a ballot asking who the delegates' second choice would be, Hann took first with 18 percent, followed by Emmer, Anderson and Seifert.

Those picking up a few write-in votes included state Reps. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead and Laura Brod of New Prague, who both are thinking about getting into the race. Also getting votes were former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman of St. Paul and ex-House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon.

Slightly more than half of the eligible delegates attended Saturday's convention in St. Paul. But those there said it was important.

Still, Douglas County party Chairman Dan Haglin said, there is a long way to go until the April state convention in Minneapolis that will endorse a governor candidate.

Haglin said he does not think candidates trailing in the straw poll will drop out.

Carol Campbell of Bemidji said the straw poll was important, but the entire convention also was important because, "It's a big opportunity to rally us."

Conventions in years other than when an election is held often are routine affairs, but the straw poll added interest and attendance at Saturday's event.

Straw polls are valuable for campaigns to understand their support, but are notoriously inaccurate predictions of a final winner. That may be especially true this year, with several potential candidates not yet in the race.

Most prominent among potential candidates is Coleman, who mingled with fellow Republicans at the convention. He said he plans to make his decision in the first two months of 2010.

But Matt Benda of Albert Lea was one of many encouraging Coleman to run: "You would be a great senator or governor."

"We miss you in Moorhead," chipped in Mark Hintermeyer, a city council member, shaking Coleman's hand.

Coleman, who the state Supreme Court ruled this summer lost his re-election race against Al Franken, said he needs some time to make the decision. But he expressed optimism for Republicans.

"I'm here to enjoy the energy and excitement," he said.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.