Republican Tom Emmer rode an insurgency theme to his party's endorsement for Minnesota governor, promising convention delegates he'd "take back our state."
No matter that Republicans have held the job he wants for the last eight years, and all but four years in the last two decades. In an election season where frustration with government runs high, he's playing the outsider card even as he runs from the inside.
Emmer is a three-term legislator from Delano, a place not quite country but not quite suburbia either. He's plainspoken, unbending and intense.
As he looks ahead to a broader audience than the faithful Republicans who backed him Friday, his test will be whether he can appear principled but not rigid - and whether he can shrink government and make it more responsive at the same time.
Democrats and liberal advocacy groups are already casting Emmer as an out-of-touch, caustic extension of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration.
Emmer didn't mention Pawlenty in his convention speech, where he urged followers "to put Minnesota back on the road to prosperity" and to seek "a new beginning in this state."
"I'm not running against Tim Pawlenty," Emmer told reporters after winning the endorsement. "The feeling is that government just isn't listening to the people."
Emmer has taken a high-altitude approach to the issues. He seldom discusses precisely how he will carry out his goals of redesigning government, lowering taxes and lightening regulations on businesses. He promised to make those positions clearer as the months pass.
Emmer gets to look ahead to November while Democrats await an August primary to learn who their candidate will be. Democratic convention delegates endorsed House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher last weekend, but former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and ex-House Minority Leader Matt Entenza are pressing ahead to the primary anyway.
That cuts both ways for Republicans.
Emmer can preserve his money until the general election; he figures he needs to raise $3 million to $5 million. But he will have to compete for attention with the competitive Democratic race. Television viewers are already seeing ads by Entenza. And Emmer could become a common target for Kelliher, Dayton and Entenza.
Emmer's advisers won't say how soon he'll hit the airwaves. They say his strength is in retail politics, where he's grabbing hands and looking voters in their eyes. That's easier said than done for 3 million voters.
His campaign is already working to counter his gruff image. A video shown at the convention emphasized a softer side, with Emmer playing hockey and hanging out with his seven children, wife and Buzz the family dog. In it, he pokes fun at his serious demeanor.
"I won't back down, but I get told all the time when I get home that 'You should probably be a little more gentle, Tom,'" Emmer says as he gets a playful smooch from wife, Jacquie. She adds, "Smile more."
The video is considered a template for his broader advertising.
It recognizes that Democrats will try to paint Emmer as angry. The temperament tactic has worked well before - for Republicans. In 2006, the GOP relentlessly portrayed Democratic nominee Mike Hatch as belligerent, and it paid off when Hatch lost his temper late in the close race with Pawlenty.
Emmer advisers compare him to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Democrat known for his fiery populism yet amiable and easygoing in one-on-one settings.
There's no shortage of video footage of an animated Emmer railing against proposals before the Minnesota House, jabbing his finger in the air as he sways side to side. Campaign manager David Fitzsimmons said the trick will be to get voters to see past that Emmer.
"If they had a preconceived notion of him, it's from the House floor," Fitzsimmons said. "To get to know him personally is an entirely different situation."
Emmer's chief Republican rival, state Rep. Marty Seifert, questioned during their race how Emmer would attract moderate Republicans and independent voters turned off by today's discordant tone.
A candidate from Minnesota's Independence Party, the political home of former Gov. Jesse Ventura, is hoping the polarization benefits him. Public relations executive Tom Horner, an ex-Republican, officially launches his campaign on Monday.
"It's not serendipity that I'm running against parties increasingly moving to the extremes, but predictable - it's the reason I entered," Horner wrote on his Twitter feed on Saturday.
Republican leaders say they're not worried about Horner siphoning votes from Emmer. After Seifert conceded Friday, some of his supporters said they saw no point in holding a grudge.
"Marty would be upset if we didn't support Emmer so that's what we will do. Tomorrow we will wake up, and tomorrow we will be Tom Emmer supporters," delegate Margaret Flowers of Hastings said Friday. "We are not the DFL."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)