GOP convention delegates weigh tea party's impact

Sign towers
Coon Rapids delegate Ryan Lorsung set up a sign tower for Marty Seifert. A stack of four signs can be seen over the tallest head, he said. "Everything else is just excess spending." Rep. Tom Emmer recently picked up the endorsement of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
MPR Photo/McKenna Ewen

As delegates to the Republican state convention gather today to endorse a candidate for governor, they're weighing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's last minute backing of state Rep. Tom Emmer.

Emmer, of Delano, and Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall are the front-runners for the GOP endorsement. Palin is a favorite of tea party supporters who likely will play a big role at this year's convention.

Both Emmer and Seifert claim substantial tea party support. But until late Thursday afternoon neither had the formal backing of any national tea party favorites.

On the way into the convention, Emmer said he was delighted that Sarah Palin changed that. But Emmer said he didn't know how valuable Palin's support will be.

"I think it helps us a lot with the support we've already got," he said "I guess you'll have to ask delegates if that is important to them. It's important to me."

Seifert dismissed Palin's endorsement and did not express any concern that it would hurt him in the balloting.

"Nobody has told me they're switching off my side because of it," Seifert said. "Nice lady, but ... the last I checked she doesn't have credentials to vote at this convention."

State Republican candidates and party leaders have been courting tea party enthusiasts, hoping to harness their energy for the fall election.

No one knows how many Republican convention delegates are associated with the tea party and their anger over federal spending and the new health care law. But Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said many of them certainly are.

"I would be shocked if a majority of delegates had not attended a tea party rally at some point across the state because a lot of the tea party folks, the tea party values are the same as Republican values," Sutton said.

However, the Palin endorsement could play both ways, Sutton said, noting that it could hurt Emmer if delegates take offense to outside intervention.

But Sutton said it's also hard to ignore that fact that 10,000 people came to the Minneapolis Convention Center in early April and gave Palin a hero's reception at a GOP rally.

Cindy Maves
First-time GOP convention delegate Cindy Maves, of Rochester, said she hadn't been involved in politics until the tea party got her off the couch.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

First-time GOP convention delegate Cindy Maves, of Rochester, said she hadn't been involved in politics until the tea party got her off the couch. Maves said the Republican Party is a good fit for tea partiers -- but only if it returns to its conservative tradition.

"I hope to help elect somebody who is a true conservative and I think sometimes the Republican Party has fallen away from that," Maves said. "We all hoping to start bring the party back to that."

A Palin fan who was in Minneapolis for the rally, Maves is supporting Emmer in the governor's race. Still, she doubts Palin endorsement of Emmer will make much difference to delegates.

Seifert delegate Bob Sellars, of Hastings, agreed. He said he's not upset that Palin has involved herself in the Minnesota GOP endorsement battle.

Bob Sellars
Seifert delegate Bob Sellars, of Hastings, said he's not upset that Palin has involved herself in the Minnesota GOP endorsement battle.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"She can do what she wants," Sellars said.

He doesn't think Palin's endorsement will mean much to delegates.

"All around the country somebody's saying 'well, I think that this is the best person for that job.' " He said. "Well, do you live there? No. Do you work there? No. Do you vote there? No. Well then what do I care?"

Sellars, who has attended several Republican Party conventions, said he has not attended a tea party rally. He is delighted tea partiers are flocking to the GOP and hopes their participation will lead to a more conservative Republican Party.

"A big amen on that, yeah," he said. "That's definitely a fact. I really consider myself a conservative more than a Republican anyway."

One person who intends to stay out of the race is Gov. Tim Pawlenty. On Monday Pawlenty told reporters that he will meet with Emmer and Seifert. But the governor said it's unlikely he will back anyone until the delegates have made their decision.

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