ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Republican candidates for governor and senator who won bellwether straw polls among crowded fields sought Wednesday to capitalize on the early show of support from party activists.
In the governor's race, former state Rep. Marty Seifert led among six candidates with 28 percent of the vote. On the Senate side, state Sen. Julianne Ortman led the field of six with 31 percent of the vote. The polls were conducted Tuesday nights at precinct caucus meetings and reflected official tallies from 124 of 127 GOP organizing units throughout the state.
Both sets of candidates are competing to challenge incumbent Democrats: Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken. The straw poll results are not binding and haven't always been the best indicator of the party's eventual nominee. For instance, Seifert won the same poll in 2010 but went on to lose the party endorsement to Tom Emmer, who then lost to Dayton that November.
"We plan to take a look at where my strengths lie, where we need work," Seifert said at a news conference Wednesday morning. He called himself a conservative who could win a statewide election.
"To win a general election in this state you must have the votes of non-Republicans," Seifert said. "Not all Republicans want to hear that."
Following Seifert in order were state Sen. Dave Thompson at 26 percent, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson at 17 percent, businessman Scott Honour at 9 percent, state Rep. Kurt Zellers at 8 percent and teacher Rob Farnsworth at 2 percent. Seifert, Honour and Zellers have left open the option of running in the party primary even if they don't get the GOP endorsement at the state convention in May.
Ortman captured 31 percent in the straw poll, with businessman Mike McFadden at 23 percent. Ortman has pursued a grassroots, party activist-centered push, in contrast to the much more well-funded McFadden.
"I believe we are united in demanding that Minnesota's next United States Senator should have a closer connection to ordinary hardworking Minnesotans," Ortman said in a victory message on her Facebook page.
At a GOP caucus meeting in Eden Prairie Tuesday night, McFadden said he didn't need a straw poll win to keep his campaign going. "We're focused on beating Al Franken," he said.
McFadden plans to run in the August primary whether or not he gets the party endorsement. Ortman has said she would abide by the endorsement and only run in the primary if no endorsement is granted at the state convention. Among the other GOP Senate candidates, state Rep. Jim Abeler got 15 percent of straw poll votes, St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg got 10 percent, and frequent candidates Harold Shudlick and Monti Moreno got 3 percent and 2 percent respectively.
Republican caucus attendance was down in 2014 compared with 2010, with about 6,200 more people attending four years ago compared with this year, according to numbers posted on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website.