The DFL candidates for governor are making a last-minute push to court delegates at the state party convention in Duluth. The main order of business for the nearly 1,400 delegates comes Saturday, when they endorse a candidate for governor. The candidates are focusing their attention now on undecided delegates.
As the convention began Friday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher were thought to be the frontrunners for the endorsement. They both got an early start on the day, holding rallies before the convention started at 11 a.m. They then went the convention floor to talk to uncommitted delegates.
Rybak said he's stressing his electability and his executive experience.
"More than any convention I've been to, this is a single-issue convention. They want to win," said Rybak. "As the candidate who is at the top of the polls, who has the best organization, I believe we're answering the biggest question in this room which is, 'Who can win this race?'"
Kelliher said she's touting her Minneapolis residency, her farm upbringing and her efforts to elect DFLers to the Legislature.
"They like that I connect rural, urban and suburban. It's a big thing," said Kelliher.
State Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia was also working the floor, warmly embracing supporters and people who have known him for some time.
"We have tried people with a lot of money, we've tried attorney generals and legislative leaders, and it hasn't worked. Maybe it's time for the little guy," said Rukavina.
State Rep. Paul Thissen said he's getting lots of questions about education and health care. His campaign officials call Thissen a consensus candidate, because they say he's the second choice of many delegates.
State Sen. John Marty said he's pushing his plan to create a government-run single-payer health care system in Minnesota.
"A lot of them recognize my agenda on health care -- truly universal, single-payer health care," said Marty. "They like that, but they want to know if I can win with that, so we're spending time talking about electability."
Rybak, Kelliher, Thissen, Rukavina and Marty all have said they'll drop out of the race if they don't win the party's backing in Saturday's endorsement process.
Former Minnesota House Minority Leader Matt Entenza is also seeking the DFL endorsement, even though he said he'll run in a primary regardless of the outcome. Despite his decision to continue his campaign without the endorsement, Entenza said he's not getting a negative reaction from the delegates.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner and former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton are abandoning the party endorsement process altogether, and will run in the August primary.
Gaertner said she was meeting with some DFL delegates but is staying out of the convention hall. She said the endorsement process is on "its last legs," pointing out that the last endorsed DFL candidate to win an open seat for governor was Wendell Anderson in 1970.
"Forty years later, I think there's even more of a sense that the process should be definitive," said Gaertner. "There are hundreds of people here, but there are hundreds of thousands who will vote in the DFL primary. And I think it's appropriate for hundreds of thousands to make the determination who is the best DFL candidate."
Dayton couldn't even get onto the floor of the convention hall on Friday. He told reporters that DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez wouldn't grant him a floor pass so he could visit with delegates. He said he was astounded by the snub.
"This is the first of the 18 DFL conventions I have been to, going back to 1976, where I was denied a floor pass," said Dayton. "I think it's very petty, but it is what it is."
DFL leaders say they did not allow Dayton on the floor because he refused to submit his name for endorsement. Melendez noted that Dayton was granted access to areas of the convention outside of the floor.
During Friday's floor session, delegates backed incumbent DFLers Mark Ritchie for Secretary of State, Rebecca Otto for Auditor and Lori Swanson for Attorney General without opposition.
Republicans have stepped forward to challenge all three DFL incumbents. Otto will face Pat Anderson, the GOP auditor she defeated four years ago.
Minnesota Republicans will hold their party convention next week in Minneapolis to endorse their candidates for those offices as well as for the governor's race. State Reps. Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert are the top two candidates vying for GOP backing. Both have said they'll drop out if they don't win the endorsement.