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Republicans ready to pick candidate

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took Republicans until 3 a.m. to pick their governor candidate the last time two major candidates fought for their endorsement.

No one expects that to happen Friday as delegates meet at the Minneapolis Convention Center, when the party will pick its 2010 governor candidate.

The 13-ballot marathon needed to choose between Tim Pawlenty and Brian Sullivan may be unlikely, but neither is a one-ballot endorsement some Republican activists predict, the party chairman said.

"I would be shocked," Chairman Tony Sutton said when asked about the single-ballot prediction.

State Reps. Tom Emmer of Delano and Marty Seifert of Marshall appear to be the only viable GOP governor candidates, and they have been in a heated tussle in recent days.

Seifert campaign supporters have been critical of Emmer for working on drunken driving bills after he was convicted of the crime 20 and 30 years ago. When announcing his running mate earlier this week, Emmer shot back that the Seifert campaign appears interested in what he did in elementary school.

The dustup provided a little extra interest as Republicans head into their convention, which they say will result in a replacement for two-term Gov. Pawlenty, who announced last June that he would not run again.

Also adding significance to the convention is the growing Tea Party group, and the similar U.S. Rep. Ron Paul movement, that has spread across the country in the past year and half.

The loosely organized Tea Party, which backs limited government and lower taxes, helped boost convention preregistration, Sutton said. Before the convention, 2,200 delegates and alternates had registered -- more than any time since 2002.

There will be 2,000 voting delegates.

"We have a lot of Tea Party folks who are active in the party," Sutton said about the turnout. "Some of this (turnout) is being driven by that. Some of it is that we have a close contest for the gubernatorial endorsement. There is this enthusiasm because people are really frustrated by what is going on in Washington and want to do something about it."

While the highlight will be the Friday governor endorsement, activity begins tonight with endorsement for state auditor.

Former Auditor Pat Anderson of Dellwood, ousted from the office by Democrat Rebecca Otto four years ago, is joined by state auditor's employee Jeff Wiita of Minnetonka, Mayor Randy Gilbert of Long Lake and ex-St. Paul school board member Tom Conlon.

The attorney general and secretary of state races each have just one Republican to challenge incumbent Democrats, and voting on those positions may be slipped between votes for governor candidates on Friday.

The convention wraps up Saturday with a breakfast featuring Pawlenty, a rally and various reports.

Emmer and Seifert will not say much about their chances.

"It's going great," Emmer offered.

He said reaction to his campaign has been good.

"People respect the fact that I have been up front with my life," he said about his two drunken driving convictions.

Seifert said he is concerned that rural delegates may opt to skip the convention. He said a Crookston delegate, for instance, told him that being a delegate would cost him $500, more than he can afford.

But Seifert said that Emmer's selection of a Minneapolis woman as his running mate could convince some rural Minnesotans to attend if they do not want an all-Twin Cities ticket.

Overall, Seifert said, one factor stands out among delegates: "The main issue with them is electability, who is going to win the general election?"

Davis reports 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.