Minnesota Republicans were told Saturday that they are members of a brand-new party and that Rep. Marty Seifert is their early favorite to be the state's brand-new governor.

Seifert, of Marshall, who came into the race as a front-runner and has one of the most active campaigns, won 37 percent of the first-choice votes in a non-binding straw poll. Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano came in second, former state auditor Pat Anderson third and Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie a close fourth.

The poll won't bind delegates in next year's endorsement fight, but it gave winners bragging rights and losers something to work on.

Several of the candidates who landed at the bottom said a low vote tally wouldn't sway them to leave the race. But it will make front-runners' lives a little easier.

Seifert said that donors and activists want to back a winner and that he has proved he can be that candidate. He said he's got a fundraising mailing almost all set to go out to 20,000 potential donors Tuesday -- and now he'll add in a prominent mention of his first-place straw-poll finish.

All the candidates had their chance to address the crowd at a forum Friday and in speeches Saturday. The list of contenders also includes environmentalist Leslie Davis, Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria, Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel, Republican activist Phil Herwig and former state legislator Bill Haas. They were bested in the straw poll not just by Seifert, Emmer, Anderson and Hann, but also by votes for "none."

Delegates also heard from party officials about their party's new energy and new strategies to bring it back to power.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who appears to be gearing up for a 2012 race for president, is not running for a third term, and told GOP convention delegates it's time to pass the baton.

Pawlenty, who began by praising God, largely reprised the best lines from addresses he has given to Republicans across the country. He said the benefit of the "cash for clunkers" program is that "it's going to get many cars with Obama stickers off the road."

While the race for the 2010 governorship may not get thinner anytime soon, it may get fatter.

Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman chatted up convention-goers for a few hours and has said he would make a decision on the race in the spring. And Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, has held back from entering the race for health reasons, but says she may jump in when she gets the all-clear. State Commissioner of Labor and Industry Steve Sviggum had also been considering a run.

Brian Sullivan, a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, said that he doesn't plan to get into the race.

Each received at least one vote in the poll, even though their names were not on the ballot.

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