DFL activists Saturday chose first-time office seeker and Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia as their endorsed candidate for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Jim Ramstad.
It took eight ballots before state Sen. Terri Bonoff, who had trailed Madia throughout the day, withdrew.
DFLers left the convention energized by the possibility of having a Democrat elected to the seat in the western Twin Cities suburbs for the first time in 50 years.
Bonoff was considered the presumptive front-runner in the race but found herself in a surprisingly difficult battle for the party's endorsement.
The multiple ballots and political fervor were spurred by many first-time participants in the endorsing process. As many as two-thirds of the delegates and alternates were believed to be first-time participants, as were 85 percent of those attending the district's DFL convention in February.
The race will be hotly contested and closely watched nationally, and Madia said Saturday he expected the campaign to cost as much as $3 million per candidate.
Madia, who served in Iraq as a Marine, told the first-time participants he considered them "new patriots" who will reach out to independents and moderate Republicans.
"There are so many people in this country who want change. So many people who hunger for a new kind of leadership that challenges all of us to be part of the solutions to the problems that our country is facing," Madia said after the convention.
DFL leaders talked of the need to focus the passion that was brought to the endorsement against presumptive Republican opponent Rep. Erik Paulsen, who is running without opposition. Immediately after Madia's endorsement, state Republican leaders said Madia was "pretty far out there in the liberal fringe."
"He's far from a moderate and he's far from a centrist," said Republican spokesman Mark Drake, who pointed to Madia's opposition to tax relief and to surveillance programs, as well as the endorsement on Thursday by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
Minnesota DFL Chair Brian Melendez warned of "the political equivalent of road rage" between Bonoff and Madia supporters.
"It's far more important for a Democrat to win in November than to win an endorsement in April," Melendez said. "We won't win the election today, but if we forget that simple fact, we can lose it today."
Before the convention, both Madia and Bonoff pledged to abide by the endorsement.
In a veiled reference to Madia, who has been criticized for supporting Republicans Bob Dole and John McCain in the past, Bonoff assured the delegates of her DFL bona fides.
During a question-and-answer period before the voting began, both candidates also were asked how they would appeal to independents and moderate Republicans.
"Some of you may not know this, I used to be a Republican. I've been getting beat over the head with it this election cycle," Madia said. Amid boos, someone in the back of the room shouted "You should."
Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636