Seifert, Ortman top GOP straw polls

Marty Seifert, a candidate for governor, addresses GOP caucus-goers before they divide into precinct groups Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at the Senate District 48 Republican caucuses at Eden Prairie High School. (Jennifer Simonson / MPR News)

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert came out on top of a GOP straw poll for governor, while state Sen. Julianne Ortman, R- Chanhassen,  was the favorite among Republican caucus attendees to challenge Sen. Al Franken this fall.

About 90 percent of the votes were counted by late Tuesday night. The results of the non-binding poll came after a long night of caucusing around the state among Republican voters. The DFL Party held their own caucuses, but with Mark Dayton and Al Franken seeking re-election Democrats did not conduct  a straw poll for the governor or Senate race.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville came in second to challenge Gov. Mark Dayton this fall, and Jeff Johnson came in third.

The results of the straw poll offer an early glimpse of which campaigns are the best organized early in the election year.

Seifert, who secured about 29 percent of the vote, said the caucuses matter.

“If you can’t break 10 or 15 percent at the caucuses, how on earth are you going to put a primary campaign together?” he said. "You do have to have people put up your signs, make your phone calls, knock on the doors.”

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Some GOP candidates for governor say they will take their campaigns to the primary if they don’t win the party endorsement in late May, but Thompson, who got about 25 percent of the vote, isn’t among them.

He said that doing well in the straw poll is important for momentum in the race and perception among party loyalists.

“I would be lying to you to say that it doesn’t matter to us at all,” Thompson said. “But I think of whether you come in first or second and by how many points, I think clearly too much can be made of that.”

Johnson said he always expected to be in one of the top three spots. He plans to abide by the party’s endorsement as well.

“Winning would have been great tonight, but it’s an early straw poll,” Johnson said. “This is really kind of the starting point of the endorsement campaign.”

Businessman Scott Honour and state Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, downplayed the importance of the caucus.

Zellers said the race was “a marathon, not a sprint,” while Honour said that the straw poll “has never been part of our strategy or path to victory.”

Meanwhile, Ortman beat out businessman Mike McFadden in a straw poll to determine the GOP candidate for Senate.

McFadden has so far outraised Ortman, with $1.7 million in the bank at the end of 2013. Ortman has raised only $250,000 so far.

McFadden is not ruling out running in a primary if he does not win the party endorsement. He garnered about 23 percent of the straw poll vote, coming 9in second to Ortman.

Caucus turnout appeared generally light, but those who did attend were enthusiastic.

GOP Senate District 51 chairman Jeff Schuette, who was caucusing at Apple Valley High School, said people are interested

“It is a Republican year and we’re excited, there’s absolutely no doubt about that ."

Gov. Mark Dayton was supposed to greet DFL caucus-goers in St. Paul with and his new running mate, Tina Smith. But his ailing hip kept him at home. Smith had to deliver the message on her own.

Tempers flared in a Minneapolis precinct where DFLer Mohamud Noor is challenging incumbent DFL Representative Phyllis Kahn. A heated argument over procedural matters prompted police to shut down the caucus.  A DFL spokesman says it's never happened before, and party officials aren't sure what to do next.

Reporters Tim Pugmire, Tom Scheck, Matt Sepic and Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.