A battle for the Republican base played out across the Twin Cities Wednesday, as two candidates for governor tapped former GOP lawmakers to help them raise money and attract more conservative votes.
A day after Vice President Joe Biden rallied DFLers for Mark Dayton in St. Paul, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich threw his support behind Republican Tom Emmer at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, across town, 13 former Republican state legislators said they were supporting Independence Party candidate Tom Horner -- a calculated move to siphon off Emmer's base.
Gingrich, whose star has risen along with the anti-incumbent wave across the country, spent much of his time at events raising money for Emmer and the Minnesota Republican Party. Emmer's running mate, Annette Meeks, was a longtime Gingrich aide -- a salient point at an afternoon news conference.
"When Tom Emmer picked her, I immediately felt this was a team that I wanted to come out and say something for," Gingrich said, adding that he believed their ticket is "dedicated to lower taxes and more jobs and more take-home pay."
The tone was decidedly different at the Horner event at the State Capitol -- though Horner himself was nowhere to be found.
"I can't support Tom Emmer," said former Republican state Rep. Dave Bishop of Rochester, noting that he has backed GOP candidates for decades. "He's too far to the right for me."
Former Sen. George Pillsbury of Wayzata, who had come out earlier for Horner, said of Emmer: "We don't think he has the capability or the experience."
Former Rep. Peggy Leppik, once chair of the House Higher Education Finance Committee, said she was "in full alignment with Horner's vision for Minnesota's education system."
Appealing to the middle?
Despite some defections in St. Paul, Emmer told reporters the "Republican base has probably never been more unified." He said many of the legislators supporting Horner had "disavowed" the party.
"They're the people that have gotten us in this bigger government, higher taxes problem, which is probably why they're supporting the Independent candidate," Emmer said.
Republican Party chairman Tony Sutton took it a step further, dismissing defectors as "a generation of Republicans that were not successful, the permanent minority. There's a special place in hell for these quislings."
But does Horner pose a threat? Not as long as he supports more taxes, Gingrich said. Horner has proposed broadening the sales tax to clothes and other services.
"If the third-party candidate were saying 'I'm for no tax increases and I'm more socially moderate,' that'd be one conversation," Gingrich said. "That's not what he's saying."
Gingrich said it is Dayton people should be worried about.
"The real danger for Minnesota is that Dayton ... will make Minnesota uncompetitive, drive productive people out of the state, and increase the unemployment rate for a generation."
A surprise guest
It was a congressional candidate who may have raised the most eyebrows at the Emmer event. Standing alongside Emmer was Republican Chip Cravaack, a former Navy captain running against 18-term DFL U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar in northern Minnesota.
Cravaack was added to the roster after an internal poll -- commissioned by his campaign -- showed him within 3 percentage points of Oberstar. Oberstar's campaign claims the GOP polling firm asked loaded questions to produce better results.
Gingrich, nonetheless, threw his political capital behind the findings, saying Cravaack is "going to be one of the great upset stories in the country this year."