Precicnt caucuses: Party faithful pick favorite candidates
By Don Davis
State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- Two state representatives appeared poised to move away from other Republican governor candidates and several Democrats were battling for bragging rights Tuesday night after Minnesotans attending more than 8,000 neighborhood meetings began picking their favorites.
Reps. Marty Seifert of Marshall and Tom Emmer of Delano roared out front of a seven-person GOP straw poll, with Seifert holding more than half of the vote in very early unofficial results. However, many of the early precincts reporting came from Seifert's home of Lyon County and other rural areas where he was expected to do well.
Things were not as clear on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party side, where Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis, state Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia, former state Rep. Matt Entenza of St. Paul and state Sen. John Marty of Roseville all were in or near double digit percentages early on in a field of 11.
The straw polls were not binding, but they could provide an early indication of front-runners. Poll results were slow coming in to the secretary of state's office and complete results were not expected until early today.
Former state Sen. Steve Kelly of Hopkins, a DFL candidate who spent caucus night in western Minnesota's Wilkin, Otter Tail and Grant counties, was not counting on a poll win.
"Some candidates will spin the straw poll results," said Carrie Lucking, Kelley's campaign manager, "but there's a reason it's a 'straw' poll. The results have no impact on who becomes the DFL candidate for governor. ... Delegates will decide who deserves the DFL endorsement, and we will do the hard work to earn their support, whether they are in the metro or in greater Minnesota."
Reports from around Minnesota indicated many predicts had an average or below average turnout, and much below that of two years ago. That was when both major parties' caucuses attracted record turnouts, mostly thanks to a heated presidential contest.
But in 2010, there is none of that enthusiasm on a national level and a governor's race just does not drive as large a turnout, even with a record-setting field.
Republicans in the poll were former mayor candidate Robert Carney of Minneapolis, environmentalist Leslie Davis of Minneapolis, Emmer, former state Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin, state Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, businessman Philip Herwig of Milaca and Seifert.
Independence candidates were businessman Robert Hahn of St. Paul, public relations executive Tom Horner of Edina and former Republican Joe Repya of Eagan. The Independence poll continues on line through the month.
Democrats in the race are state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner of White Bear Lake, Kelley, Kelliher, Marty, former GOP legislative candidate Felix Montez of Minneapolis, Rukavina, Rybak, artist Ole Savior of Minneapolis and state Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis.
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton asked that his name not be on the caucus straw poll ballot, saying he thinks the public voting in a primary election should determine a party's nominee.
Besides Dayton, Gaertner said she will run in a primary election and Entenza has hinted that he will.
That means the DFL contest will drag out until August, when this year's primary election is expected to be held. Republicans, other than long-shot Davis, promise to go along with their party's April convention endorsement, giving the GOP candidate more than three months' head start on the eventual Democratic nominee.
Before the caucuses, Seifert and Emmer were thought to be the GOP leaders, with Hann coming in a distant third. A straw poll during an October Republican convention set the early order and polls some counties have done little to change it, other than show that Emmer was gaining on leader Seifert.
Dayton and Entenza are the big-money kings of the DFL. But Rybak and Kelliher are well known and other candidates have spent a lot of time around the state.
Dayton loaned his campaign $570,000 out of $642,000 the campaign raised in 2009. The campaign spent $625,000, more than twice as much as any other campaign even raised and three times as much as most.
Most campaigns report having more money on hand than Dayton's $16,800.
"My finance report shows that my priority in 2009 was not on fundraising, as I am uniquely fortunate in not having to do it," Dayton said in a statement.
The heir to the Dayton-Target fortune and former U.S. senator said he plans to increase fundraising efforts before this year's election.
Dayton's finance report is in stark contrast to some of his opponents. For instance, Gaertner raised $111,000 last year, Kelley collected $187,000 and Kelliher reported $254,000 in donations.
Entenza's report showed he raised $300,000; he gave and loaned the campaign $80,000.
Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.
Incomplete, unofficial results from precinct caucus straw polls, as reported by the Minnesota secretary of state's office:
(645 of 4,129 precincts reporting)
Tom Bakk, 230, 6.47 percent
Matt Entenza, 310, 8.72 percent
Susan Gaertner, 68, 1.91 percent
Steve Kelley, 107, 3.01 percent
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, 640, 18 percent
John Marty, 371, 10.43 percent
Felix Montez, 3, 0.08 percent
Tom Rukavina, 460, 12.94 percent
R.T. Rybak, 688, 19.35 percent
Ole Savior, 5, 0.14 percent
Paul Thissen, 220, 6.19 percent
Uncommitted, 454, 12.77 percent
(Mark Dayton asked not to be on ballot)
(226 of 4,129 precincts reporting)
Robert Carney, 2, 0.19 percent
Leslie Davis, 7, 0.68 percent
Tom Emmer, 394, 37.99 percent
Bill Haas, 18, 1.74 percent
David Hann, 28, 2.7 percent
Philip Herwig, 14, 1.35 percent
Marty Seifert, 562, 54.19 percent
Write-ins, 4, 1.38 percent
(0 of 8 precincts reporting)
Robert Hahn, 000, 00.0 percent
Tom Horner, 000, 00.0 percent
Joe Repya, 000, 00.0 percent
Other, 000, 00.0 percent
(Party also is holding an on-line poll through Feb. 28)