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Emmer likely to be endorsed to replace Bachmann, but will still face GOP primary

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Former Republican State Rep. Tom Emmer
Former Republican State Rep. Tom Emmer
Mark Zdechlik / MPR News

Former Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer appears to have a lock on the GOP endorsement for Congress in Minnesota's 6th District.

Delegates in the district north of the Twin Cities metro area will convene Saturday to give their backing to Emmer to run for the seat U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is leaving at the end of the year.

But the endorsement won't guarantee Emmer a slot on the November ballot.

• Related: GOP candidates spar for chance to replace Bachmann

Emmer, of Delano, also must win the August primary, and two challengers aim to prevent that from happening. As Emmer prepares for the party convention, he is the only one of three Republican candidates who has agreed to abide by the GOP endorsement.

Earlier this week the other two candidates, former state Rep. Phil Krinkie of Circle Pines and Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah of Lino Lakes, announced primary campaigns, acknowledging that most delegates are backing Emmer for the GOP endorsement.

Emmer has little to say about the primary. However, he said, "I will suggest to all Republicans that we're much better off together, unified, working together than we are apart."

Having narrowly lost the governor's race four years ago to Democrat Mark Dayton, Emmer said he is taking nothing for granted this time. He said Krinkie and Sivarajah are good people but he's the best choice for 6th District Republicans.

"All I can do is take care of the things that I'm in control of," Emmer said. "I'm in control of making sure that we work very hard through the endorsement — if we're fortunate enough to get the endorsement — then to work hard through a primary and through a general election cycle."

Another thing Emmer isn't taking for granted is the money he'll need for the campaign. Through the end of March, he raised $830,000.

Former Republican State Rep. Phil Krinkie
Former Republican State Rep. Phil Krinkie
Mark Zdechlik / MPR News

Krinkie has so far put $350,000 of his own money on the line for his campaign.

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't feel confident that we could win a primary," he said.

Krinkie said his legislative and business experience make him the strongest candidate. He said he is "somebody who's been a job creator for 30 years. I think I have a pretty good idea of what it takes not only to create jobs but what it takes to get government out of the way in order to help us grow this economy."

Although he is not attending the district convention, Krinkie said it would be hypocritical to ask for delegate support while planning a primary campaign.

Sivarajah will be at the convention, even though she knows she won't be leaving with the endorsement.

Through the end of last year she put $150,000 of her own money into her campaign.

Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah
Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah
Mark Zdechlik / MPR News

Sivarajah said her primary campaign will highlight her track record of coalition building on the Anoka County Board, which she said has made Anoka County government more efficient. She said in contrast to her record of accomplishment, front-runner Emmer is best known for opposing what others do.

"Saying 'no' is not enough," Sivarajah said. "I'm very confident if any one of us go to Washington we may vote the right way. However, it's not just about voting the right way. That's important. It's about actually advancing the principles and moving the agenda forward."

If the three Republicans race to stake out the most conservative positions to attract conservative primary voters, it could give Democrats an opening.

In 2012, Bachmann won in the 6th District by slightly more than one percentage point. Two Democrats, St. John's University professor Jim Read, of Avon, and Sartell Mayor Joe Perske are competing for the DFL endorsement and both pledge to abide by it.

Retired St. John's University/College of St. Benedict political science professor Kay Wolsborn said the competitive DFL endorsement battle has engaged many 6th District Democrats. Wolsborn said if they unite behind one candidate, Democrats could take advantage of a potential GOP race to the right.

"If the competition over the summer turns out to be for the most conservative of the Republican alternative, that could be problematic later on when it comes time for the November election, because the Democrats can use that material in the final push toward November."