State Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall is the perceived front-runner in the race for the GOP endorsement for governor, after winning a straw poll of Republican Party activists at Saturday's state party convention in St. Paul.
But based on past straw polls, there's no guarantee that Seifert's name will be on the November 2010 ballot. Seifert has been one of the most aggressive campaigners since Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced in June he wasn't running for a third term. The effort paid off when Seifert secured 37 percent of the vote from nearly 1,200 party activists at the state convention.
"Donors, volunteers and Republicans in general want to bet on a winning horse, and they don't want to bet on a horse that's headed to the glue factory," Seifert said. "So I feel pretty darn good about where we're at in terms of the bets for next year but we're going to keep earning people's support. We don't want to take anything for granted."
Seifert said he intends to send out 20,000 fundraising letters on Tuesday. His victory means he'll have advantages securing endorsements and raising money compared to the other candidates in the race, but it also means he'll have the biggest target on his back.
State Representative Tom Emmer of Delano said he's pleased that he came in second with 23 percent of the vote, especially since he's been campaigning for a shorter period of time than Seifert and former State Auditor Pat Anderson, who finished third.
"So they're out there essentially already with fully loaded Cadillacs with leather seats and a Sirius radio, and I'm on a bike," Emmer said. "Our goal when we started was to place. We wanted to use today as a measurement to see how far we've come because essentially we had a couple of candidates who had campaign organizations already set up,"
For her part, Anderson said she hopes the field of candidates will shrink, but several candidates who finished near the bottom of the straw poll have vowed to press on.
In fact, several more candidates may join the field of nine Republicans. A source close to state Rep. Laura Brod of New Prague said she may get in the race by the end of the month. Brod received several write-in votes.
Another potential candidate is former Sen. Norm Coleman, who says he's still mulling whether to enter the race.
"I'm doing what I want to do right now, but sometime early next year I will reflect on that and if it makes sense for Minnesota, if it makes sense for me and my family then I can move in that direction," he said. "But I have deliberately not put a lot of thought into it."
Coleman knows better than anyone that the straw poll doesn't guarantee success at endorsing conventions. In 1997, he lost the straw poll for governor but ended up winning the party's endorsement. He later lost the general election to Jesse Ventura.
While the straw poll is an early sign of which candidates are doing well among delegates, DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez says it doesn't matter. He dismissed the results before the votes were even counted.
"There is not a single possible winner of this poll that I'm concerned about against the strong field that the DFL has," he said. "Whoever it is that comes out of here is going to have hung around their neck the millstone of Tim Pawlenty's two administrations and the budget deficit he is leaving the state. Up against that, it doesn't matter who wins."
There are nine DFL candidates already running for governor. That field doesn't include the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul -- R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman - who are also considering running.
Pawlenty said he's staying away from backing a candidate at this point, and said he's not sure if he'll weigh in on the race before April's endorsing convention.