Minnesota Republicans race the clock at endorsing convention

Minnesota Republicans gathered for their weekend endorsing convention in Rochester with the goal of endorsing candidates who can end the party's losing streak in statewide elections that dates to 2006.

The GOP senses that the political winds are at its back this year. Midterm elections are typically challenging for the party in power. President Joe Biden's approval ratings have sagged. High inflation is American voters' top economic concern.

But Minnesota GOP officials spent the weeks leading up to the convention worrying about the event going sideways.

"We are on the verge of becoming the governing party in the state of Minnesota," Minnesota GOP Chairman David Hann told delegates in a speech. But he warned that failing to endorse candidates at the convention "puts our election success at considerable risk of failure."

Republicans endorsed Kim Crockett, an attorney who questioned the 2020 election results in Minnesota, for the secretary of state's race. Rival Kelly Jahner-Byrne dropped out of the race after the second round of balloting. In the first round, Crockett led Jahner-Byrne, 57 percent to 42 percent.

Republicans' first endorsement came in the state auditor's race. Ryan Wilson, a Maple Grove attorney, ran unopposed.

Republicans endorsed Jim Schultz in the attorney general's race after four rounds of balloting. The governor's endorsement is scheduled to happen on Saturday.

The convention got off to an unsettled start when a larger-than-expected turnout coupled with a slow check-in process led to long lines. That forced Republicans to delay opening the convention by 90 minutes.

That only furthered concerns about finishing on time. Republicans said they need to end the convention Saturday because it must vacant the Mayo Civic Center that night.

On the issue of timing, Republican officials won an early victory Friday when delegates agreed to use electronic voting devices in the endorsement contests. Some delegates favored paper ballots, a method that is more time-consuming.

What's at stake at the convention?

Republican candidates are seeking the endorsement of 2,200 GOP delegates who were chosen at caucuses across the state in February. Traditionally, Republicans who fail to get the party's endorsement drop out of the race, allowing the endorsed candidate to focus on the general election.

After months of campaigning, no frontrunner has emerged in the Republican governor's race to take on DFL Gov. Tim Walz this fall.

Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, former congressional candidate Kendall Qualls, state Sen. Paul Gazelka, former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, dermatologist Neil Shah, and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy are running for the governor's race endorsement. State Sen. Michelle Benson dropped out of the race this month.

At the convention, candidates are allowed to make speeches to win support. Then, they and their volunteers will work the room, trying to woo delegates who are supporting other candidates.

If no one wins the endorsement, the GOP race will likely require a primary election on Aug. 9. Even if there is a narrow endorsement, one or more losing candidates could decide to force a primary, though all have said publicly that they will abide by the endorsement.

Complicating factors

Friday morning, Republican delegates agreed to allow GOP-affiliated groups, including the Log Cabin Republicans, to vote at the convention. That overturned a move made one day earlier at the state central committee, a smaller gathering of party activists, who failed to recertify the groups.

Some party activists are upset with the Log Cabin Republicans because that group favors a ban on so-called conversion therapy, the practice of trying to turn gay children into heterosexuals.

A vote at the convention to recertify the affiliated groups was pending Friday.

Delegates overwhelmingly rejected a switch to paper ballots after party officials made an impassioned plea in favor of electronic voting. They handed out electronic devices and allowed delegates to practice using them with questions such as "which NFL team do you generally support?"

The winner was the Minnesota Vikings.

Some activists sought to use paper ballots instead. In floor speeches, two delegates said it would be "hypocritical" of the party to clamor for "election integrity" in the November election but use electronic voting at the convention.

Republican party officials said paper ballots would require two hours for each round of balloting instead of five minutes with electronic voting.

That played into a second concern about timing. Republicans have only booked the venue until midnight Saturday. Current GOP officials want convention business wrapped up by 6 p.m. Saturday so crews can start tearing down the event.

That leaves just 32 hours to conduct the convention. To remind delegates, the GOP posted a countdown clock on giant monitors inside the venue.

What about the DFL?

Democrats, in turn, are trying to make this year's election about former President Donald Trump, who has galvanized Democratic voters in each of the last two elections.

The DFL convention is the following weekend, May 20-22. The event will likely be a formality because there are no endorsement battles for Walz or the DFL's other statewide officials - a significant difference from 2018, when Democrats had a competitive convention.

Walz and Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan are scheduled to address delegates on May 20. Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and Auditor Julie Blaha will follow.