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Action picks up as GOP decision in gov race nears

  • Article by: BRIAN BAKST
  • Associated Press
  • May 21, 2014 - 2:55 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republicans heading to next week's state endorsing convention that could chop a crowded governor field have more to consider Wednesday, after one contender selected a running mate and another left room to run in a primary without party backing.

There are nine Republicans with campaign committees in the race, though only five are seen as having a legitimate shot at the nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in November.

Of the contenders, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, named former Rochester Rep. Bill Kuisle as his choice for lieutenant governor. Johnson is battling for the GOP endorsement at the convention in Rochester that starts May 30, and says he'll leave the race if a different candidate gets it. The endorsement is only a waypoint in the race, with the August primary looming.

Johnson said he picked Kuisle — a farmer who has been out of elective office since 2004 — because he has appropriate expertise in and out of government, and that his choice gives his ticket geographic balance.

"He's genuine, he's well-grounded. He is direct and plain-spoken. He's got a great sense of humor and is a man of integrity," Johnson said.

Kuisle, 56, said he had to think twice about getting back into politics but decided he couldn't pass up the chance. He lost his re-election bid in 2004 and returned full-time to the family farm.

"I've been outside the Legislature long enough to get back to normal, if there is a normal, and get out of the everyday politics grind," he said. "I always told my friends I was reformed and recovering from politics."

Rep. Kurt Zellers said he would announce his running mate Thursday.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Marty Seifert declined to say if he'll head to an August primary without the party endorsement, which gives the winner access to special lists and other resources. In his first try at the office four years ago, Seifert dropped out of the race when he didn't gain the endorsement. Seifert said he is "open-minded" but won't make a decision until late next week.

Attending a convention can put delegates out hundreds of dollars, so Seifert said he's worried that some backers from greater Minnesota will skip the trip. He said the money could be better spent in campaign donations.

"If this is a poll tax on too many people who are supporters of mine, I want to take all these things into consideration," he said. "I still feel very confident we'll be able to win this thing."

Only Johnson and state Sen. Dave Thompson are all-in next weekend. Zellers and businessman Scott Honour are primary-bound and have given no indications they will compete heavily at the endorsing convention.

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