Minnesota Democrats have endorsed House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher as their candidate for governor.
Kelliher won the endorsement Saturday night in Duluth after six ballots as her four competitors dropped out one by one, but she now faces a four-way contest in the DFL primary election on August 10.
Kelliher led from the first ballot, but it took nearly 14 hours and six ballots to decide the endorsement.
Kelliher is a six-term legislator, and is serving her fourth year as House Speaker. She's the first woman to win major party endorsement for governor in Minnesota. During her acceptance speech, Kelliher noted that if she's elected she would also be the state's first female governor.
"DFLers, are you ready to make some history? Are you ready to make history together?" she asked the crowd.
The party endorsement is an big boost for Kelliher, but it does not provide her a clear path to November. She'll face three challengers in the DFL primary. Former state legislator Matt Entenza, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner are running in the primary.
A Democrat hasn't won a governor's race since 1986, but Kelliher was sounding confident about the campaign ahead.
Kelliher: We are going to make sure that just as we have won elections in the past, we are going to together build a strong, strong campaign across this state as we go on to victory in August and victory in November
Kelliher's closest competitor was Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who ran a strong second throughout the balloting, but could never close the gap.
"Fellow Democrats, it's time for the greatest party in the state of Minnesota to come together and support Margaret Anderson Kelliher for governor," Rybak told the audience.
Rybak said he was withdrawing and called on Kelliher's three primary challengers to do the same.
It took only two ballots for atate Sen. John Marty of Roseville to drop out. Marty suggested that his supporters moved behind state Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia. But Rukavina, the only DFL candidate from outside the Twin Cities, pulled out after four ballots. He turned his concession speech into a rousing endorsement for Kelliher that ultimately sealed her victory.
"Margaret knows about the "F" in the DFL and while she isn't quite as me on the "L" in the DFL, she's the best labor candidate left in this race," Rukavina said.
State Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis held third place through five ballots, but was unable to gain any more ground and dropped out.
Republicans were on hand to watch the festivities, and they were quick to criticize Kelliher, and the DFL. Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the Minnesota GOP, said Democrats will continue to be a divided party through the primary. Brodkorb said Republicans will be united after their convention later this week in Minneapolis.
"I think there's a lot of pretty tough emotion among the DFL candidates right now. They have 100 plus days before they have a final candidate," he said, alluding to the DFL primary in August. "The Republican candidate is going to be talking to Minnesota, talking to Minnesota voters, talking about why we need to lower taxes, have sensible government, talk about their candidacy. I think it's going to provide a real contrast and a real advantage to Republicans."
Republicans have a much smaller field of candidates for governor, with state Rep. Tom Emmer and state Rep. Marty Seifert considered as the front runners. They have both promised to drop out of the race if the other wins the endorsement.