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As others see it: 'Big tent' not fully open

If the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party were a dysfunctional family, counselors would have made a lot of money last weekend in Duluth. If ever there was a dysfunctional political organization, the DFL measures up.

Delegates ground through five ballots Saturday night, eventually giving the endorsement for governor to House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and making history in the process. She is the first female candidate with major party backing for the state's highest elected office.

But does she really have the party's backing? Given the circumstances at the convention, she has the support of delegates (some of them lukewarm at best), but hardly has enthusiastic universal DFLer backing.

The endorsement made gender history, but whether Kelliher will be the name on the DFL line on the November ballot is another matter. Not all of the DFL family that trekked to Duluth was in the house - that "big tent" DFLers like to tout. Indeed, some of the most formidable DFL politicians were unwelcome or chose to make themselves unwelcome. The spat that divides the party will escalate into a full-blown shouting match between now and the Aug. 10 primary.

The convention took on the feel of a troubled extended family that wants to keep a strange uncle locked up in the room above the garage. In the DFL family, the uncles include Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza, candidates for governor who early on decided to skip the convention endorsement process and go right to the primary. For the most part, they were banished by the party's hierarchy to campaign in hallways and parking lots. But both have enough support and money to make Kelliher's endorsement far less than a lock on the nomination.

Which raises the question: Why convene a DFL nominating convention at all? A clear-eyed assessment of the convention's work can only conclude that it was little more than insider cheerleading seasoned with bitterness over the outsiders' choices to go directly to the primary.

DFL leaders will say vigorous debate and diversity of political strategies make the party strong. Nice try. Unity makes a political party strong. ...

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