With fireworks and calls to action, Republicans running to oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken appealed to party faithful for support on Friday.
Nearly 2,000 GOP delegates will decide who will best serve them in the fight to unseat the first statewide Democratic incumbent for a generation.
For months, Republican state Sen. Julianne Ortman, businessman Mike McFadden, St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg and state Rep. Jim Abeler and others have been traveling the state, organizing their campaigns for delegates and voters.
For some Friday's decision will end the fight -- both Ortman and Dahlberg have pledged to drop out if Republicans do not pick them.
Ortman's campaign handed out a flier to delegates decrying the decision of other candidates not to do so.
"McFadden and Abeler will not respect your vote," her campaign told delegates. "They refuse to abide by your endorsement."
Her campaign, with endorsements from Sarah Palin and national Tea Party groups, has pitched Ortman as the conservative choice for senate. But Ortman, who was challenged from the right in her late state senate run, had not closed the deal with some.
McFadden, who has never run for office before and had little public involvement in GOP politics, told Republicans he was the most electable. McFadden, who will run in a primary whether or not delegates pick him, has told the activists he also has a crucial ingredient other candidates lack: "The money."
"In just 10 short months, Mike has raised nearly $3 million. This not only gives him a significant advantage over every other Republican in this race, but it also surpasses most other challenger races in the country," a McFadden lit piece said.
Dahlberg, who hails from a Democratic-leaning county, and Abeler, who has long been re-elected from Anoka County, both told delegates they could appeal across the spectrum.
"We need to turn Franken's blue counties to Republican red," a Dahlberg video said.
The messages from echoed among delegates, leaving many undecided.
Barry Kukowski, a Republican leader from St. Cloud, said he has listened to the hopefuls and but at not made up his mind as the first ballot in the contested endorsement battle for senate approached.
"Once they're endorsed, I'll be fully supportive," said Kukowski, who wore no candidate garb on his shirt.
“It doesn’t really make much difference ultimately whether it’s Ortman or McFadden,” said delegate Fred Nobrega of Rochester, though he was wearing a red, white and blue Ortman sticker on his lapel. “The important thing is we want Franken out.”
Republicans were united in that goal. Six years ago, Franken and then U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman vied in a race so close it sparked a months-long recount. They were anxious not to face that possibility again.
“In 2014, whoever our candidate is – I ask that you stand with me and make sure there is no recount and there is no do-over,” said Coleman, who backs McFadden, told the crowd.
Balloting for endorsement in the senate race was expected to start after 4 p.m.
Star Tribune reporter Patrick Condon contributed to this report.