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The people have spoken. Or rather, 14,000 out of the 5 million people in Minnesota have spoken up about their picks for the state Republican Party’s top races.
Tuesday night was caucus night, a Minnesota tradition that gives any legal voter a chance to shape party policies. For Republicans, Tuesday’s straw poll was a chance to see how their campaigns are playing with the core base of party loyalists willing to come out and caucus in the cold.
“I am truly surprised,” said Marty Seifert, who won the GOP gubernatorial straw poll and captured 29 percent of the 14,099 votes cast despite being the last candidate to jump into the race to challenge DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Before the poll results rolled in, Seifert, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, had been saying he’d be happy just to place in the top three.
The straw polls are nonbinding and notoriously unreliable, as Seifert learned four years ago when he won the straw poll but lost the endorsement. Still, a strong showing can give a boost to any campaign and Seifert said he felt “very humbled, obviously, that the Republicans in the churches and schoolhouses and caucus locations across Minnesota were casting their votes for me.”
Caucuses kick the campaign season into high gear. State Sen. Dave Thompson, who placed second in the poll, suggested that anyone wondering how much weight to give straw poll results might want to “ask Gov. [Brian] Sullivan and Gov. Seifert” — two past straw poll winners.
“It does have an impact on momentum and perception. … We all want to do well,” Thompson said Tuesday night as he circulated among the precinct crowds in Eden Prairie. “It all really starts in earnest tonight. People start paying attention, so this is what energizes me.”
Final results on Wednesday showed: Seifert, 29 percent; state Sen. Dave Thompson, 26 percent; Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, 17 percent; undecided, 10 percent; businessman Scott Honour, 9 percent; state Rep. Kurt Zellers, 8 percent; and teacher Rob Farnsworth, 1 percent.
In the Senate straw poll, state Sen. Julianne Ortman led the field of Republicans hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat.
“I am so proud and grateful to have earned the support and encouragement of so many of my fellow Minnesotans,” Ortman said in a statement. “In the coming weeks and months I will continue to work to earn the support of all Minnesota voters.”
Businessman Mike McFadden, who placed second in the Senate poll with 22 percent of the votes to Ortman’s 31 percent, headed to Washington, D.C., Tuesday. There, he told the national press corps that he expected to weather attacks from Democrats on his business history, similar to the charges Mitt Romney faced while running for president in 2012.
“They’re going to try to do to me what they tried to do to Mitt Romney,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying.
As the caucus results rolled in, state Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey cheered the turnout for the off-year caucus.
“Strong leadership is the key to our success, but not just in the political realm and not just for ourselves, but for the people of our state,” Downey said. “With leadership like that from our party, I believe Minnesota Republicans can have a strong showing in November.”