GOP convention

Delegates gathered at the GOP convention on Friday in Rochester. (Mike Mulcahy/MPR News)

Delegates at the Republican state convention endured long lines, last-minute politicking and tussles over rules Friday amid eagerness to cast votes that will shape their election ticket.

The mood at Mayo Civic Center in Rochester ranged from enthusiastic about a favorable political environment to apprehension that internal struggles could get in the way. The convention itself underscored the two – many first-time delegates and alternates packed the auditorium but time pressured to complete work before the party loses its venue.

The main business is to endorse a candidate for governor. Also at issue are endorsements for the state’s other constitutional offices: attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and lieutenant governor.

The convention started nearly two hours after the scheduled 10 a.m. kick-off, with delegates still unsure whether they would use paper ballots or vote electronically on endorsements.

Once the opening gavel fell, the vote to use electronic balloting was overwhelming, in part because counting paper ballots by hand would have delayed the process possibly longer than the party had rented the arena. They have to finish their first day’s session by midnight Friday and won’t have access past 6 p.m. on Saturday.

“The only thing that presents an obstacle to our success this fall is us,” said party chair David Hann as he gaveled the convention to order. “Do we have the will to do the things that are necessary to be a majority party?”

Republicans quickly endorsed attorney Ryan Wilson for state auditor, the only candidate who sought GOP backing. “Together we will win back Minnesota and the comeback begins now,” Wilson said in an acceptance speech.

Then the party moved to a contested race for secretary of state between Kim Crockett and Kelly Jahner-Byrne, a race elevated given the party’s concerns about election integrity stemming from the 2020 presidential race.

Crockett had a wide lead on the first ballot and was endorsed when Jahner-Byrne dropped out before the results of the second ballot were announced.

“We must root years of hyper-partisan election processes built up over 16 years of Democratic rule,” Crockett told delegates. “My goal is to restore everyone’s confidence in elections by making it easy to vote but really hard to cheat.”

DFL incumbent Steve Simon is seeking a third term as secretary of state in November.

All eyes, though, are on the governor’s race. Six candidates – state Sen. Paul Gazelka, former state Sen. Scott Jensen, Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, business executive Kendall Qualls, dermatologist Neil Shah and former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek – were seeing the endorsement, but Stanek was not at the convention. He was late to enter the race and has been recovering from a recent car accident. It is unknown if he’ll continue on to an August primary.

The rest have said they’ll honor the convention’s will and leave the race if somebody else is endorsed.

The Mayo Civic Center auditorium walls were plastered with campaign signs. There were hospitality suites where delegates can pick up free logoed trinkets, shirts and bags. And there was free food to keep participants nourished during what is going to be a long haul.

Delegates rejected a proposal to move the governor’s endorsement from Friday to Saturday, meaning their time could be limited with so many candidates contending and a hard deadline of 6 p.m.

Each of the five candidates contending were greeting delegates as they came in Friday.

It takes a vote of 60 percent of the convention delegates to endorse, and no one was thought to reach that threshold on the first ballot. Candidates need to meet different thresholds as the ballots progress to stay in the running. So second-and-third choices are important.

The endorsement is important for Republicans. Every endorsed candidate since 1998 has gone onto the nomination, though only one has become governor. Tim Pawlenty’s win in 2006 was the last statewide Republican victory.

Watching from afar were state Democrats, who were already working to brand Republicans as too extreme to win. DFLers meet next weekend in the same building for their party convention, where fractures between progressive and moderate wings could also appear.

Julie Quist has been a delegate to GOP state conventions going back to the 1980s. Her husband, Allen Quist, was endorsed for governor in 1994 — and is the last to lose a primary; sitting Gov. Arne Carlson won it that year en route to a second term.

Quist said she doesn’t think that will happen this time even if there’s a fractious convention. More than half of the delegates are first-timers.

“People are really pumped,” Quist said. “And it’s interesting because the division really indicates that there are people from all different points of view coming together to make a change. And I think that’s going to carry the day regardless.”

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