I went to the Minnesota GOP convention in Rochester over the weekend.
The atmosphere could hardly have been more different than the 2012 convention, with its factions and intrigues and cliques full of giggly partisans with their secret handshakes and code words.
This year, the code word was “pragmatism”; the GOP base is sick to death of losing.
Dahlbmentum: The big shock out of the gate? The collapse of the Julianne Ortman campaign. She fell under the statutory 20% minimum by the 5th ballot (candidates that don’t have 10% on ballots 2-4, and more than 20% after ballot 5, are dropped from contention).
But St. Louis county commissioner Chris Dahlberg came out swinging, leading the balloting from the first ballot through the end of Friday evening.
Friends from greater Minnesota tell me it could only have been a surprise to people in the Metro; Dahlberg has been working outstate delegates constantly and intensely. And I think he was a protest vote as well; a backlash against the impression that McFadden – who had said he’d go to a primary if he didn’t get endorsed – was the hand-picked candidate of Norm Coleman and Vin Weber.
If you have any friends who were delegates, they will no doubt tell you all about it today, yawning as they do; the balloting continued until 2AM, with Dahlberg leading by 54-45 when the convention voted to suspend voting until 9AM Saturday; people were getting pretty exhausted.
It may have kept Mike McFadden in the endorsement chase. We heard that the McFadden people had called out no-show delegates to get to Rochester, and with the morning’s first ballot the race was nearly even; by Ballot 10, McFadden and Dahlberg had switched positions from the night before, with McFadden in the fifties. Around 1:30 in the afternoon – as the Northern Alliance was on the air – Dahlberg conceded.
So the Senate balloting ended half a day later than expected.
Maneuvering: Then came the governor race.
The conventional wisdom called it a three-way race between Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert and Dave Thompson (with Scott Honour and Kurt Zellers skipping the convention and going straight to the primary).
The first ballot reflected this; Johnson had a slight lead, but the top three were bunched in the low-thirties to high twenties. Rob Farnsworth dropped out after Ballot 2 (he fell under 10%) and sent his delegates to Johnson (to whom it looked like most of them had already gone).
Ballot 3 saw Johnson extending his lead, with Seifert and Thompson falling further behind.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
After ballot 3, Dave Thompson withdrew and, in a superbly crafted concession speech, told his delegates to go to Johnson – strictly because Johnson and pledged to abide by their endorsement – and urged Seifert’s delegates to think hard about Seifert’s position (he’s always said he’d go to a primary if he wasn’t endorsed).
Not long after, Seifert took to the stage, and released his delegates, saying many of them had long drives home.
Jeff Kolb describes the strategy and the effect:
In his speech Seifert released his delegates and told them they could go home. The move was an attempt by Seifert’s campaign to block the endorsement of Johnson. Endorsement requires 60% of the votes that are cast, but that number needs to be more than 50% of the delegate count at the time of the last credentials report. So if enough people leave, it becomes impossible (or very difficult without some crazy rules wrangling) to obtain an endorsement.
The non-Seifert part of the floor erupted in anger. And it turned out that there were enough votes left to beat the 50% requirement; Johnson topped 60% on the fourth ballot, for the endorsement.
Summing Up: We’re basically going to go to the primary with the same exact governor field (sans Thompson), and a horde of pundits saying this year was the death of the endorsement process. We’ll see, of course; if the endorsement gives Johnson the clout to win the primary, then rumors of its death may be exaggerated.
And I have a newfound respect for the likes of Tom Scheck, Rachel Stassen-Berger and Bill Salisbury, who have to not only cover this stuff for a living, but make it readable and listenable to boot.
So we’ll see you out on the primary trail!