Delegates to local political conventions were faced with some uncomfortable choices Saturday as incumbent state senators and representatives from the same party were forced to compete against each other for endorsements in several newly redrawn districts.
GOP convention delegates gathered at a middle school in White Bear Lake and were about to cast ballots to endorse a candidate to run for a House seat in Minnesota's brand new District 38B when Kathryn Jeffrey, a delegate from Precinct 2 in North Oaks, spoke up.
"It just never occurred to me that somebody, by our vote today, then couldn't run afterwards," Jeffrey said. "I never would've thought this before but maybe we should consider not endorsing."
Jeffrey argued that it seemed early in the process to rule out one of two established legislators: four-term House Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood or three-term Rep. Carol McFarlane of White Bear Lake.
The redistricting process, completed in late February, had paired the legislators in the same district. The 114 Republican delegates were tasked with choosing which to endorse with the party's support. If a decision could not be made, McFarlane and Dean would face off in a primary, diverting attention and energy away from the campaign against Democrats.
Jeffrey's argument didn't persuade the delegates and the convention proceeded. The winner needed to win at least 60 percent of the valid ballots cast. After just one round of balloting, Convention Chairman Jim Carson announced that the House Majority Leader received 61.4 percent of the vote.
"I'd like to congratulate Matt Dean on being endorsed for Minnesota House," Carson said.
Afterward, McFarlane stood weeping outside the auditorium as Rep. Michele Bachmann, who had stopped by unexpectedly, tried to comfort her. McFarlane wiped her eyes before speaking with reporters.
"Well, my faithful people stood with me. And you know it was basically a polished politician against a local girl," McFarlane said.
Before the convention, McFarlane and Dean had agreed to abide by its decision. But after the vote, McFarlane told reporters she wasn't sure what she would do next.
"It's too early to say anything. I need to rest and reflect," McFarlane said.
"So you might run?" someone asked.
"I didn't say that either."
McFarlane said she had to speak with her family before deciding how she would proceed.
"I have a lot of thinking to do," she said.
Dean said McFarlane has strong support within the party and he was not surprised that the vote was close. He said it was "awful" compete against a Republican colleague.
"We didn't really think it was too awfully fair to this area to pair every single Republican incumbent in my district with another Republican incumbent," Dean said. "A lot of the delegates are angry about that, and deservedly so. They don't want to have to choose between two good representatives."
Dean said he expects McFarlane to stand by the earlier agreement to abide by the endorsement.
"I'll take her at her word. And whatever Carol wants to do down the road I want to be helpful to her," Dean said. "But we need to come together and make sure we come together in November."
Jim Schottmuller, a delegate from North Oaks, Precinct 2, said he would be disappointed if McFarlane forced a primary.
"A person who really wants to represent the people of her district and wants to represent the views and opinion of the people of her district would respect the people in her district," Schottmuller said.
Delegates in Senate District 31 also chose between two colleagues: first-term Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake and third-term Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel. Delegates voted five times before Benson had the 60 percent to win. Jungbauer stepped aside and said he was happy to support her.
In Senate District 66, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville and Mary Jo McGuire of Falcon Heights were pitted against each other. Marty won the endorsement on the first ballot.
In the 7th Congressional District, the Republican Party endorsed Lee Byberg over state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman. Byberg will challenge longtime Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson.