Former Republican Tom Horner is the Independence Party's endorsed candidate for governor. Horner beat out four other candidates at the IP state convention Saturday.
The delegates to the IP convention made quick work of their endorsement for governor. They needed only one ballot to choose Horner -- giving him 68 percent of the votes, above the 60 percent that he needed to win.
As he has campaigned for the endorsement, Horner said his background in politics and business would allow him to run a more successful campaign than the other four IP candidates.
He said he's got the best chance to win against a Republican and Democrat in November and that the state needs leadership from the middle.
Prior to the vote, Horner told the 177 Independence Party Convention delegates he could bring big changes to state government.
"What I offer is the recognition that to move four years forward, Minnesota needs an independent thinking governor to get Minnesota started, to get us headed in the right direction," said Horner. "Minnesota needs independent leadership to break free of the status quo. You know how Ronald Reagan defined status quo, don't you? 'Status quo,' he said, 'is Latin for the mess we're in.'"
Horner worked for Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger from the late 1970s through the mid-'80s. He then helped launch the public relations firm Himle Horner. Horner was also a Republican political commentator on Minnesota Public Radio News through the end of last year.
“Minnesota needs an independent thinking governor to ... get us headed in the right direction.”Tom Horner
Some of Horner's competitors for the IP endorsement accused him of being just another Republican, and a latecomer to the IP.
Rob Hahn a 41-year-old publisher and author, called Horner a "recovering Republican."
"I don't bring any political baggage from my past life," Hahn said.
Hahn and another IP candidate, John Uldrich, say they will remain in the race to challenge Horner in the August primary.
But Michael Burger, an IP delegate and Horner supporter, noted the IP is flush with former Republicans and Democrats, and said Horner's newcomer status doesn't prevent him from being an excellent IP candidate.
"We've had that ever since the party started. All of us, all of our candidates have come from another party and they always bring their slant and their views. And it's for us in the Independence Party to either accept that or reject it."
Burger, who's from Mankato, said he got involved with the third party during Jesse Ventura's 1998 campaign for governor. He said a big reason he supports Horner is that he thinks Horner has the contacts and skills to organize and build the party, particularly in rural parts of the state.
"Outstate is not as concentrated with IP members as in the Twin Cities area, so we have to rely on the candidates to build that in the outstate areas," he said.
Burger said he thinks Horner will have a great chance to attract voters, not only because no incumbent governor will be on the ballot, but also because he says many voters are fed up with Republicans and Democrats.
State Republican Party chairman Tony Sutton was quick to criticize Horner after his endorsement.
"After over 30 years as a political insider, Tom Horner is now running on the same failed Independence Party formula of higher taxes and more spending," Sutton said in a statement.
After Horner kicked off his campaign this week, Democratic Party spokesman Donald McFarland said Horner would attract only conservative voters.
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says Horner is a good choice for the IP, and that with enough money Horner could gain traction, appealing not only to independents but also to moderate Republicans and Democrats.
But Schier says if Horner's candidacy could also bolster chances for the DFL candidate for governor.
"I think one advantage the Democrats may have this November is that of the three major party nominees, two of them may be Republican -- a moderate Republican Tom Horner and a very conservative Republican Tom Emmer," said Schier. "The Republicans are a smaller party in terms of adherence, and if they're split, that actually may help the Democrats win the governorship for the first time since 1990."
Horner agrees he's likely to get more support from Republicans than Democrats, but he's confident he will attract support from moderate DFLers as well.
Horner is planning a statewide media tour this week, following the lead of the endorsed candidates in the DFL and Republican parties. He also says an ad campaign to introduce himself to Minnesotans will come soon.
Horner says he would like to have as much as $2.5 million for his campaign, and he acknowleges bringing in that kind of money is going to be a struggle.
"I make no bones about it. I mean there's a long ways to go, and fundraising is going to be the challenge," he said.
Because the Independence Party has major party status in Minnesota, Horner could qualify for several hundred thousand dollars in matching public campaign money.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)