Up to 1,400 delegates will pour into the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday to throw their support behind a candidate for mayor.

While the Minneapolis DFL hasn't been able to endorse a candidate in a closely contested mayoral election since 1979, the gathering will offer the first clear gauge of candidate strength and help bring a crowded field into focus.

"It's one of the few times that we would have any sort of data about that," said Dan McConnell, chairman of the Minneapolis DFL.

Mayor Betsy Hodges faces endorsement challenges from seven candidates, including state Rep. Ray Dehn, City Council Member Jacob Frey, former Hennepin Theatre Trust leader Tom Hoch, filmmaker Aswar Rahman, community activist Al Flowers, Captain Jack Sparrow and Jeffrey Sterling Olson. The election is Nov. 7.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a lawyer and civil rights activist also running for mayor, is not seeking the DFL endorsement.

The Dehn, Frey, Hoch and Hodges campaigns say they intend to abide by the party's endorsement — if there is one — and drop out of the race if they don't get it.

But all four say they are hoping to win it. To get the endorsement, one candidate must win 60 percent of the convention's delegates.

Incumbents, including those who've endured rocky first terms, have fared well in recent decades in Minneapolis mayoral elections, even without winning the endorsement.

Sharon Sayles Belton won re-election in 1997 after a first term in which Minneapolis was nicknamed "Murderapolis," and R.T. Rybak won re-election in 2005 despite a tough challenge from Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

"Our goal for the convention is to earn the endorsement of the DFL, and we're in a good position to do that," said Alida Tieberg, Hodges' campaign spokeswoman.

Relaxing the rules?

Standard convention rules require that candidates who don't attract 10 percent of the delegates after the first ballot be dropped, and the threshold for staying in the hunt rises by 5 percent on each ballot thereafter. As the field narrows, delegates throw their support behind their second or third choices.

But one candidate, Tom Hoch, is hoping the convention is more forgiving to those with less support. His campaign proposed rules that would allow candidates to stay in the convention so long as they win support from 5 percent of delegates through the second ballot.

Kieran McCarney, Hoch's campaign manager, said the more lenient threshold would make the convention more "open and inclusive" and not immediately exclude candidates of color.

Those rules were adopted by a DFL committee but must be approved by the convention to be used on Saturday.

Both Dehn and Frey — who expect they will easily surpass the 10 percent threshold on the first ballot — and their campaigns oppose the change.

The Hodges campaign has not taken a position on the rules dispute.

However, with Saturday's forecast at 85 degrees and partly sunny, nobody wants a battle over convention rules to drag into the afternoon, pushing endorsement ballots perhaps into the evening.

Managing expectations

Frey's campaign manager, Joe Radinovich, put the onus on Hodges to win the endorsement.

"We think that the likeliest outcome in a DFL convention is the incumbent is endorsed for re-election," he said.

That likely won't happen, he said, though he admitted that while a Frey endorsement is possible, "the path to get there is very narrow."

Dehn's campaign manager, Joelle Stangler, said the key question is who can win over the large number of undecided delegates who will attend on Saturday.

"There will undoubtedly be delegates coming in undecided and making up their minds at the convention," she said. "We look forward to winning their support on the day of."

Rahman, a young outsider candidate, said he backs Hoch's rule change and hopes to make it to the third ballot, but mostly he wants to connect with delegates.

"I don't think anybody has knocked it out of the park, and that gives us an opening," Rahman said.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405

Twitter: @adambelz