Bills wins GOP endorsement; prepares for campaign

Republican State Convention 2012
Kurt Bills wins the U.S. Senate candidate endorsement at the Republican State Convention Friday, May 18, 2012 in St. Cloud.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Party Republicans have chosen a candidate to run this fall against Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Minnesota state Rep. Kurt Bills of Rosemount was endorsed by delegates to the state GOP convention in St. Cloud Friday.

Five Republicans sought the endorsement but only three of them were considered "serious" contenders. Of those, only one had Ron Paul's endorsement: Bills. He's a first-term lawmaker from Rosemount who teaches high school economics. Bills won the endorsement on the second ballot, beating out former state Rep. Dan Severson and Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth.

"This is just great, I'll tell you," Bills said upon receiving the endorsement.

He was quick to jab President Barack Obama and Minnesota's two DFL U.S. senators.

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"You know we sent a lawyer, a community organizer and comedian to Washington, D.C. and we get an economy that looks like it does today," Bills said. "Finally, we're going to send an econ. teacher and see what happens."

Bills also coined a new term that is likely to come up again on the campaign trail as he seeks to link Klobuchar to Obama.

" 'Klobamanomics' has gotten us trillions of dollars in new debt, the EPA reaching into every mine and field across the state of Minnesota and crony capitalism that benefits monopolies instead of the free market," Bills said.

Republican State Convention 2012
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul addresses delegates at the state convention Friday, May 18, 2012 in St. Cloud.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Many of the delegates at the GOP convention were also supporters of Ron Paul. They gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation as he wished the Bills campaign well.

"And I would like to see Kurt Bills win and become a Senator, that'd be nice," Paul said.

Four years ago, Paul was not allowed to speak at the Republican state convention. This year, there is no question that Paul's support helped Bills secure the endorsement.

"It made a huge difference, yeah," said Ryan Barthel, a delegate from Bellingham in west-central Minnesota. Barthel voted for Bills. He said he likes that Bill and Ron Paul share the same outlook.

"Small, limited government, Constitution, private property. Stuff like that," Barthel said. "He's a lot like Ron Paul in some respects."

Republican State Convention 2012
Delegate Neal Breitbarth from Fairmont at the Republican State Convention Friday, May 18, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Asked what it would take for Bills to defeat the well-funded and relatively popular Klobuchar, Barthel said "Boy, that'll be tough."

Delegate Neal Breitbarth from Fairmont in southern Minnesota said he had a simple strategy for the Bills campaign.

"We're going to have to talk about the economy. Where are you at today? Do you think you are in a better position today than you were four years ago?" Breitbarth said.

Breitbarth arrived at the convention undecided Friday morning. By the time the voting began, he was wearing a Severson sticker but was pretty sure Bills would win. Breitbarth said he thinks Bills is a good choice to put up against Klobuchar. He says Paul's endorsement isn't the only thing Bills has going for him.

"You know, he's been in public service, so I think it's not an anomaly that he's in the position he's in," Breitbarth said.

Klobuchar's campaign released a statement reading, "Amy has always put Minnesota first and has a strong record of standing up for our state and getting things done. That's what she will continue to do."

After winning the endorsement, Bills met with reporters in front of an old, blue school bus plastered with his campaign material. Bills said the first thing he is going to do on Monday morning is teach his economics class. Then he'll embark on his statewide campaign.

"This bus will be touring around the state. My family has committed," Bills said. "Since I'm a teacher, I have the summer months to get out there and get active. I talked to my wife already, Cindy, and she's on board."

The convention continues Saturday for a second and final day. The agenda includes selecting 13 Republican National Convention delegates and finishing platform work.