OWATONNA — Republican candidate for governor Marty Seifert stopped in Owatonna Thursday as part of a statewide campaign tour.
His running mate, state Rep. Pam Myhra of Burnsville, was with him as well. They arrived by plane on the southeastern leg of a trip that’s covered 25 cities in 10 days.
Through his meetings with the public and the media, Seifert hopes to collect enough voter capital to win the first contested Republican gubernatorial primary in 20 years. In Owatonna, he touted his rural roots and experience in agriculture, even throwing in a Highway 14 reference.
“Obviously I’m from southern Minnesota,” he said. “So I feel like we’re doing very well in the south.”
A former state House Minority Leader, Seifert was born in Springfield. He believes he has a well-balanced team with Myhra, who has worked out of the south metro area in the Legislature and as a CPA.
Three other candidates are running in the Aug. 12 primary. One is Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who received the Republican endorsement late last month. State Rep. Kurt Zellers and Orono businessman Scott Honour will round out the field.
Faced with a contested interparty election, Seifert said he’s trying to distinguish himself from his GOP opponents as well as the DFL incumbent, Gov. Mark Dayton. As such, he’s taking to a label that has begun following him.
“Some people would characterize me as a maverick, but I would embrace that label,” Seifert said.
He received the label through his willingness to go against the grain of the GOP — first by announcing early that he would not concede to another endorsed candidate and again by alienating some party leaders at the state convention.
During the third round of balloting, Seifert and Johnson were the last two gubernatorial candidates still vying for an endorsement. Lacking in delegate votes, Seifert took the podium. Many expected him to concede, but instead he announced that he would force a primary. He also told his delegates that they were free to go home before a final endorsement was reached.
The move was criticized by many, including state GOP chair Keith Downey, who opined on stage that Seifert was attempting to reduce the number of present delegates so that a majority decision couldn’t be reached. Johnson still went on to take the endorsement with a passable vote.
On Thursday, Downey said that he’s focused on supporting the endorsed candidate and restoring some gravitas to the distinction of being chosen by party delegates.
“We’re all moving past that and on supporting Jeff Johnson,” he said.
Seifert also downplayed the state convention, saying that he and Downey have a good rapport and that voters are more interested in the candidates than “adjournment procedures.”
He’s focused on moving around the state soliciting support for the primary, an election that generally gets low turnout. A February caucus preference poll put Seifert in front of the other candidates, but that was before the convention.
A June KTSP/SurveyUSA poll of about 400 likely voters put Johnson and Zellers tied for the lead and Seifert in third place. The poll also said that 22 percent of respondents were undecided.
Seifert said the long campaign tours set him apart from other candidates and give him the perspective needed for the job he’s seeking. In places like Worthington and Crookston, he’s been quoted as saying those areas won’t be “flyover country” under his watch.
He repeated the phrase for Owatonna and emphasized that he’s just another southern Minnesotan.
“If people from this area are looking for someone who is the most like them, they’re probably going to vote for me,” he said.