Royce White didn't have much of a campaign apparatus ahead of the Republican state convention earlier this month. He had just $10,000 in his campaign account at the end of March and a past that includes disparaging people on social media, promoting conspiracy theories and a slew of legal issues.

Yet the former NBA player swept the state Republican convention with 67% of the vote on the first ballot, winning the GOP endorsement in his bid to run against Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"At the end of the day, I don't think the candidacy of Royce White was taken seriously and it should have been," said former Republican Party deputy chair and state legislator Kelly Fenton, who voted for Joe Fraser and questions why other campaigns didn't do more opposition research on White.

Some Republicans say his overwhelming victory was the result of low convention turnout and a flawed nominating process that allowed him to vie for the endorsement in spite of his history. But others who backed him, along with longtime GOP strategists, say his victory sends a powerful signal that Republicans want an outspoken outsider and are willing to look the other way when it comes to his past.

"Go find me a perfect political candidate out there that doesn't have flaws. They're nonexistent," said Mike Murphy, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who backed White at the convention.

Born and raised in the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, White describes himself as part of the state's Republican grassroots, which has been influential in congressional races this cycle.

"They know I'm an outsider," White said of the delegates who backed him. "My life is very public, so anybody who would say, 'Oh, well, you know, the delegates didn't know' ... well, maybe? But at the end of the day, it's not hard to look me up, and it's not hard to look up my past. I've lived a very public life."

Court records show White has faced multiple housing evictions in the past two years, including a $15,000 default judgment after he failed to respond to a housing claim for months of unpaid rent. White's landlord claimed he stopped paying rent in April 2020, and that despite the landlord receiving more than $41,000 from a federally-funded rental assistance program on White's behalf, White did not make subsequent payments on an outstanding debt of nearly $9,000.

Campaign finance reports show he used campaign funds on shopping, strip clubs and hotels in Tennessee and Georgia after an unsuccessful 2022 congressional run. White pled guilty in 2020 to violating an order for protection put in place by Angelic Elizabeth Aguilar, the mother of two of his children. Aguilar said in her petition: "I fear for my life, like he'll hurt me to the point where he might go to jail." In response, White characterized their dispute as part of a redemption story of a young couple. They now live together and he argued on X that orders for protection are often granted in divorce cases.

White says his past — debt, eviction, alimony disputes — makes him relatable to voters, especially in the Black community. That's a demographic, along with Hispanic voters, that he said will be crucial in his push to win by focusing on Ramsey, Hennepin and Dakota counties.

"When you come from the Black community, there's nothing in my past that is extreme," said White, who notes he's the first Black man endorsed for U.S. Senate by a major party in Minnesota. "A lot of people have debt. A lot of people owe child support or alimony. A lot of people have been evicted at some point in time."

White also has a history of making anti-semitic and derogatory slurs to attack critics on social media, which he defended.

"The Black community is a very vulgar community culturally, and just in general," White said. "I don't say that to be insulting. I just know it to be true because I grew up there. We use profanity, we talk aggressive and we say what we think online and in person. Those are exactly the communities we need to go into to change the landscape of Minnesota."

Republicans have not won statewide since 2006. Some of White's supporters view him as the only candidate who stands a chance at taking on Klobuchar, who's seeking a fourth term. White has high name recognition from his podcast and his time in the NBA, and has the support of national far-right Republican figures, including Trump advisor Steve Bannon, InfoWars radio host Alex Jones and House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

White draws parallels between himself and former President Donald Trump, who too has had to answer questions about his past and faces numerous federal indictments.

"People don't like Trump because of his past or his divorce or whatever. But we're willing to look past that to gain someone who's a good communicator, and someone who can explain the issues well and can relate to people," said former GOP state Rep. Jeremy Munson, a delegate who voted for White. "Maybe that's what it takes. I'm willing to try something new because running the same milquetoast Republican candidate in our state isn't working and we need to try something different."

But some Republicans say White's win is the reason the party needs to consider doing away with endorsing conventions and go straight to primaries to prevent party activists from swaying the process.

"I think it is terrible that he was endorsed by the Republican Party," Michael Brodkorb, former deputy chair of the state Republican Party, said of White. "That's an activist-driven decision. That's not a party leadership decision."

Since the state convention, the party has not touted White's endorsement in news releases or on social media, and did not respond to a request for comment.

Brodkorb thinks White could affect the party's chances at winning down-ballot races this cycle because candidates will now be asked if they support White.

But Fenton thinks delegates may still have backed White even if they knew everything about him.

"I don't know that it would have mattered to that group of people," Fenton said. "Because they don't believe anything that the party tells them to begin with. It was very much an anti-establishment sentiment and that is why Royce won."

It's unclear if White will face a serious primary challenge or if the party's backing will clear the field. Fraser's campaign declined to say if he will run in the August primary. He has until the June 4 filing deadline to decide.

Even if Fraser runs, his path to victory remains uncertain. He raised just $45,000 and has no public endorsements on his campaign website.

Murphy said the grassroots' recent victories across the state show that the party needs to take them and the candidates they back more seriously and respect their endorsements.

"We can't push down the will of the grassroots because, if we do that, we're no longer gonna have volunteers," he said. "We're no longer gonna have our door knockers and our [literature] droppers and the individuals that go to our phone banks, and that's just the reality of it."

Star Tribune staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this story.