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New DFL expects peace and win

DULUTH -- There is a new attitude at this year's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party convention.

Instead of divisiveness and ideology, Democrats are going with unity and realism for 2010. At least that is how they sounded Friday as 1,400 of them converged on the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to pick their governor candidate.

Often, both Democrats and Republicans pick candidates on the party's political extremes. In the Democratic case, that would mean a very liberal politician.

But delegates from across the state say that may not be their prime concern this year as the DFL wants to break a drought the party has experienced in the governor's office since 1984.

The new attitude will be tested today, expected to feature a long balloting process for the largest flock of governor candidates in memory.

No DFL candidate appears to have support of even 30 percent of the delegates. With 60 percent needed to win the convention's endorsement, and relatively little difference among candidates, balloting could stretch through all of today and maybe even into early Sunday.

As delegates made their way through a short day on Friday, conducting mostly routine business such as voting on platform planks and endorsing incumbent state officials, there was no indication that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, also a Minneapolis resident, had moved out of their front-runner positions.

However, Sen. John Marty, state Rep. Tom Rukavina and state Rep. Paul Thissen all said they felt they have a good chance today because delegates are so divided.

Former state Rep. Matt Entenza also will compete for the endorsement, but already is looking to the Aug. 10 primary election. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton is skipping the endorsement process all together, as is Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. Other major candidates say they will drop out of the race if not endorsed today.

Often, Democrats fight it out before a convention, but this year has been more peaceful.

"What you are seeing is acrimony on the Republican side," Entenza said during a break in his chats with uncommitted delegates.

GOP leaders Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert, both state representatives, are going after each other with a fervor not usually seen in their party. Delegates to the DFL convention, meanwhile, had nothing bad to say 0about their candidates, other than those like Entenza who plan to ignore who the convention backs today.

An example of coexisting was a pair of Thief River Falls delegates. Ben Saylor wore a Rybak T-shirt, sitting next to Norman Halsa, with a Rukavina pin on his polo shirt.

"We keep things cordial," said Saylor, who added the convention would be "100 percent behind" whoever wins today's endorsement.

Adding a new twist to today's voting is reNEW Minnesota, a campaign that promotes ideas such as the government can solve problems in Minnesotans' lives, that racism hurts society and that private business is not always better at solving problems than government.

The group claims about 160 of the 1,400 delegates will vote as one today for Kelliher, Thissen or Rybak.

"I think we can have a very big influence," said Nancy Larson of Dassel, a convention delegate and Democratic National Committee member.

At some point today, reNEW members will decide to vote one of their preferred three candidates, perhaps swinging the endorsement. Until then, each member will vote his or her own way.

"We are concerned Minnesota has been declining," Larson said, and the reNEW influence could change things.

"By acting as a bloc, we are stronger," added Paul Sobocinski, a Redwood County farmer.

Gary Fuller of Red Lake, a Red Lake Band of Chippewa member, said he likes the reNEW stand on encouraging racial justice and its favored candidates show strong support for American Indian issues.

Kelliher, Rybak and Thissen will not "touch Indian gaming," Fuller said.

With so many candidates to close together philosophically, who can beat Republicans will become a major issue, said convention veteran Terry Kroke of Moorhead. "The tie-breaker is going to be, can we elect them?"

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.