Kelliher is only done with Round 1

The DFL's endorsed candidate now faces Dayton, Entenza and Gaertner.

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There was lots of celebrating Saturday night after Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, center, won the DFL endorsement. But she faces a tough road ahead with three primary foes.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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DULUTH - Inside a humid, messy Duluth convention hall, DFL activists cheered in harmony Saturday for gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who won an unusually civil fight for endorsement.

Outside the arena, disunity reigned as the promise of a discordant primary loomed ahead for Democrats.

Fresh off besting Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and other power players for the DFL nod, Kelliher now will contend with even bigger names -- and wallets -- for an August primary victory. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former state Rep. Matt Entenza and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner all hope to topple the House speaker for the nomination.

They have the political might, campaign cash and competitive power to fracture DFLers and hurt their chances against Republicans in the fall. They've been courting those potential voters for months, while Kelliher has had to woo delegates first, and the three were quick to make their voices heard over the weekend.

Before the party made its choice, Dayton was telling reporters in Duluth about what he called the DFL's "petty" choice to keep him off the convention floor. Within an hour of Kelliher's jubilant victory speech, Gaertner said she looked forward to a "vigorous primary." By Sunday, Entenza was flying around the state on "a primary campaign kickoff tour" and was planning to run TV ads this week to get his name in front of voters.

Entenza said he personally likes Kelliher, his former colleague in the Minnesota House, and looks forward to discussing his "positive vision for Minnesota." But he is also pitching his leadership over hers.

"Unfortunately, Democrats have often lacked a clear vision and message about what we will do to improve our economy and build a strong future for Minnesota," he said in a statement announcing his primary push.

DFL call to withdraw

Party backers were keenly aware of the imminent challenge, even as they unified behind Kelliher.

"I am withdrawing from the race, but I am also publicly calling on Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza and Susan Gaertner to do the same," Rybak said Saturday night to loud cheers from the tired but exultant convention crowd. He was the last of five Kelliher rivals to drop from convention contention.

Although some DFL rivals' backers voiced worries that Kelliher might not be the best candidate against Dayton or Republicans, and some of her own supporters murmured that she lacks the ability to electrify a room, power Democrats were ready to pull for their newest candidate.

On Monday, she will be the star of a DFL-organized fly around the state, with stops in Bloomington, Rochester, Moorhead and Mankato. The party, which will throw its might behind the speaker, will try to show its harmony. Kelliher will have the party's heavy hitters on her side. U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Reps. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison are expected to join her at a Monday morning stop. McCollum and Ellison previously supported other candidates. A Franken spokeswoman said he's "ready and willing" to do whatever she needs to ensure victory.

Kelliher said she'll win the primary because she, the party and her backers will, "work our tail off."

The Republican fight

Republicans claimed to be gleeful over Kelliher's endorsement. GOP Deputy Chair Michael Brodkorb said Kelliher has presided over an "ineffective Legislature." He visited the DFL convention to watch its party contest.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert said, "While the Republican Party will be united behind one candidate in less than a week, the DFL will have a bruising primary battle for months."

But Democrats were quick to praise their convention for its civility. "This was the most courteous, cordial convention I can remember," veteran delegate Randy Schubring, of Rochester, said Saturday.

Republicans may not be able to say the same thing. In advance of Friday's gathering to pick the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Seifert and Tom Emmer, both members of the state House, waged a heated, testy fight for their party's nod.

The two men have battled inside the party for years, developing a bitter rivalry even before they were leading candidates for their party's endorsement. Their supporters appear to have no end of enmity for their rivals, shaping a battle that will spill onto the GOP convention floor.

That fight starts Friday morning in the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report. rachel.stassen-berger@startribune.com • 651-292-0164 bhelgeson@startribune.com • 651-222-1288

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