Seifert cruises in GOP straw poll; Dems split between Rybak, Kelliher

Seifert at a caucus
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Marty Seifert meets with Paul Truax of Bloomington at a caucus Tuesday night at Bloomington Jefferson High School.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Republican state Rep. Marty Seifert was the top choice for governor in a straw poll of GOP caucus-goers Tuesday night, and Tom Emmer was the only other candidate to reach double figures.

On the DFL side, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher topped a large field in the non-binding preference poll.

Turnout at the Tuesday night precinct caucuses was much lighter than caucuses two years ago. Attendance for both parties' caucuses was about 41,000 according to the Secretary of State's offce, compared to approximately 268,000 in 2008 -- a presidential election year. But the stakes are still high, since delegates will eventually pick the candidates that will have party backing.

SEIFERT WINS GOP STRAW POLL

Seifert garnered about 50 percent of the votes in the non-binding preference poll, with Tom Emmer receiving about 39 percent.

Since Seifert and Emmer both say they'll drop out if they don't get the Republican party backing, neither candidate was taking any chances on caucus night. Both candidates criss-crossed the metro area hoping to meet as many Republican activists as possible.

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Seifert started his night greeting caucus-goers at Bloomington Jefferson High School. He talked with activists about government spending, abortion and why he was the best candidate in the field.

Straw poll results: Democrats
The democratic results from a non-binding straw poll conducted after the gubernatorial caucuses held in Minnesota on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010.
MPR Graphic/Steve Mullis

Before the straw poll results were final, Seifert said he was cautiously optimistic. At one point, he joked that he wanted to finish in the top two. He didn't have to worry, since the third-place finisher, David Hann, received less than 10 percent support.

Seifert said his campaign will start working to convince activists to back him at district conventions and at the state party convention in April.

"Straw polls are a good indicator who the frontrunners are, and we know we need to organize delegates going up for the state party convention and not take things for granted," Seifert said.

While the caucus in Bloomington was subdued, the one in Eagan was much louder. About 300 Republicans gathered in the Metcalf Junior High School gymnasium to listen to an hour's worth of speeches before they even started the process.

Seifert spoke to the audience, as did two other Republican candidates, Phil Herwig and Tom Emmer.

Straw poll results: Republicans
The republican results from a non-binding straw poll conducted after the gubernatorial caucuses held in Minnesota on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010.
MPR Graphic/Steve Mullis

After his speech, Emmer told reporters he didn't expect to win the straw poll. He suggested, however, that he has more momentum than Seifert.

"We're looking at it as another measurement. We don't want to peak on Feb. 2. We want to have our support continue to grow. We want to be peaking on May 1," said Emmer. "For us, it's another stage in the process where we can show people the momentum that we generated."

Several caucus attendees were undecided before the straw poll was taken. Many said they were struggling with the decision. Others wondered aloud which candidate had the best shot at winning in November.

Keith Johnson of Bloomington decided to back Emmer, but said either candidate has to make a good case to independent-minded voters.

"I do think there's a movement nationwide of unhappiness with the Democrats, because of things going on in Washington," said Johnson. "In Minnesota that doesn't necessarily always translate into local races, so it may still have to do with who the individuals running are than it does with that."

The Republicans went into caucus night with a field of seven candidates. No one has dropped out, but after the straw poll the GOP contest appears to be a two-man race between Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer.

DFLers CHOOSE RYBAK, KELLIHER, "UNCOMMITTED"

On the DFL side, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher each got about 20 percent of the support of caucus-goers who cast a vote in the non-binding preference poll. In third place was "uncommitted," with about 15 percent.

At Bryn Mawr elementary school in Minneapolis, about 75 DFLers gathered to talk about the candidates in this year's campaign.

Nearly everyone at this neighborhood meeting stuck around after voting in the straw poll. Claudia Egelhoff of Minneapolis said her mission for the evening was to propose a resolution in support of universal, single payer health insurance.

"That's the reason I'm here. I want to keep that issue before people, and remind people that this is what our ultimate goal is for health care reform," said Egelhoff.

In the governor's race, Egelhoff said she's supporting House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who's also her state representative.

Kelliher arrived late to her home precinct caucus and said she was hoping for a good showing in the straw poll. Looking ahead, Kelliher said she'll continue working for the party endorsement by talking to delegates about leadership and electibility.

"I think that we'll know more about the folks going to the next levels of convention, and obviously having very focused conversations with them about their hopes and dreams for the state," she said.

Kelliher stayed close to home, but some DFL candidates hit the road in the hunt for potential delegates. Steve Kelley traveled from Hopkins to three western Minnesota counties. Tom Rukavina, who lives near Virginia on the Iron Range, spent caucus night in Rochester.

DFLers from seven St. Paul precincts held caucuses at Ramsey Junior High School. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak ran quickly from room to room, making a similar pitch to each group.

Rybak said he was pleased with the reception he was getting from caucus-goers. He said the straw poll answered some questions about his support outside of Minneapolis.

"A year ago, people said that the DFL endorsement was locked up. I think tonight my hope is to say that it's not locked up," said Rybak. "It's an open race. And if it's an open race, I think we're in good shape."

The endorsement process culminates at the DFL state convention in April. But because former Sen. Mark Dayton and others say they won't abide by the endorsement, the party nominee won't be determined until the state primary later in the year.

The Independence Party of Minnesota also held caucuses, which will continue online for the rest of the month. The results of the IP straw poll won't be final until then.