Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's gubernatorial bid got a national nod from former presidential candidate Howard Dean, whose 2004 presidential campaign Rybak supported.

In an e-mail to Minnesota DFLers on Monday, Dean stressed what he sees as Rybak's anti-politician vibe, even though Rybak has been in office for nearly 10 years. "R.T. isn't really a politician. ... He's an organizer and a grass-roots campaigner," said Dean, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and former Vermont governor.

The endorsement comes as Rybak is engaged in a tight fight for the DFL Party's endorsement in April. Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Sens. Tom Bakk and John Marty along with Reps. Tom Rukavina and Paul Thissen also are seeking the backing.

All of those candidates have pledged to drop out if they don't get the party's endorsement, but three other DFLers have not: former Minority Leader Matt Entenza, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner have said they will run in the August primary.

Dean's endorsement could bring some national might to Rybak, along with some baggage.

As a presidential candidate, Dean took aggressive stands for health care and against the Iraq war, making him a favorite among progressives. His "50-state strategy" to make Democrats competitive across the country was credited with improving the party's fortunes.

But the "Dean scream" he emitted at the 2004 Iowa caucus still evokes giggles in some circles and his harsh criticism of Obama's health care plan has rankled some.

Rybak and Kelliher appear to be front-runners in named convention delegates, but a large number of uncommitted delegates remain up for grabs.

Kelliher has support from several dozen "superdelegates," who automatically get a convention vote because of their positions. They include legislators.

The Republican endorsement race appears equally competitive. State Reps. Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer are the front-runners.

"By most accounts, it's a dead heat," said Emmer, who on Monday announced support from two Edina legislators -- Sen. Geoff Michel and Rep. Keith Downey.

Emmer now claims support from 26 legislators.

Seifert claims support from about 20, including Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem.

Unlike DFLers, Republican legislators do not get an automatic vote at state conventions.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164