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Seifert walks away with GOP state convention poll

Carol Campbell of Bemidji reads up on governor candidate Tom Emmer Saturday as she tries to decide among three candidates. She was preparing to vote in a straw poll at the Republican state convention. Pioneer Photo/ Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Marty Seifert took an early lead in the first statewide measure of Minnesota's Republican 2010 governor race.

The state representative from Marshall collected 37 percent of the vote in a GOP state convention straw poll, a convincing victory in a nine-candidate field.

Finishing second was Rep. Tom Emmer, getting 23 percent in the non-binding poll. In third with 14 percent was former State Auditor Pat Anderson.

Seifert, who resigned as Republican House leader to run for governor, said he was surprised to receive such a strong showing from both urban and rural convention delegates.

Many rural delegates who may have supported him were "duck hunting or farming" Saturday, he said after it took 2½ hours to count slightly more than 1,000 votes.

Seifert said his victory will help him raise money and attract volunteers.

Emmer was thrilled to finish second to Seifert, who has much more statewide name recognition from his time as a legislative leader.

"This is a great spot to be in after just 10 weeks," said Emmer, who represents the Delano area.

The straw poll showed him where he needs to work.

"Obviously, we didn't spend enough time up north," Emmer said, adding that he also needs to work harder in western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District.

Anderson, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Dellwood, said her goal was to finish in the top three. She said she continued to work full time during the early campaign, while other candidates campaigned full time.

She said she expects the field to narrow after the straw poll.

"I think you are going to see several candidates over the next week to get out of the race," she said.

But all candidates initially said they plan to remain active.

Trailing the top three were Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, 12 percent; Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria, 5 percent; Leslie Davis of Minneapolis, 1 percent; former Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin, 1 percent; Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel, 1 percent; and Phil Herwig, 1 percent. There also were several write-in candidates and some delegates submitted blank ballots.

In a ballot asking who the delegates' second choice would be, Hann took first with 18 percent, followed by Emmer, Anderson and Seifert.

Those picking up a few write-in votes included state Reps. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead and Laura Brod of New Prague, who both are thinking about getting into the race. Also getting votes were former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman of St. Paul and ex-House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon.

Slightly more than half of the eligible delegates attended Saturday's convention in St. Paul. But those there said it was important.

Carol Campbell of Bemidji said the straw poll was important, but the entire convention also was important because "It's a big opportunity to rally us."

Still, Douglas County party Chairman Dan Haglin said, there is a long ways to go until the April state convention in Minneapolis that will endorse a governor candidate.

Haglin said he does not think candidates trailing in the straw poll will drop out.

Conventions in years other than when an election is held often are routine affairs, but the straw poll added interest and attendance at Saturday's event.

Straw polls are valuable for campaigns to understand about their support, but are notoriously inaccurate predictions of a final winner. That may be especially true this year, with several potential candidates not yet in the race.

Most prominent among potential candidates is Coleman, who mingled with fellow Republicans at the convention. He said he plans to make his decision in the first two months of 2010.

But Matt Benda of Albert Lea was one of many encouraging Coleman to run: "You would be a great senator or governor."

"We miss you in Moorhead," chipped in Mark Hintermeyer, a City Council member, shaking Coleman's hand.

Coleman, who the state Supreme Court ruled this summer lost his re-election race against Al Franken, said he needs some time to make the decision. But he expressed optimism for Republicans.

"I'm here to enjoy the energy and excitement," he said.

In her speech to the convention, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann gave no indication she was looking at the governor's race, although some would like her to join the crowded field.

She said the party needs to bring in independents, libertarians and others.

"These are startling times, stunning times," she said, launching into a criticism of the President Barack Obama's actions.

"The American people, when they see liberalism in practice, they recoil," Bachmann said.

Candidate speeches Saturday afternoon took a variety of forms.

Seifert's speech was the most politically traditional. He entered the St. Paul auditorium to chants of "Marty, Marty."

"Job No. 1 is jobs," he said. "We have a very hostile tax and regulatory climate in the state."

Seifert renewed his oft-voiced call for welfare reform: "We do this not because we dislike people, but we value hard work."

While others, such as Hann, said candidates need to work to gain votes from people other than Republicans, Emmer said his politics are where the people are.

"I will not compromise on our principles," Emmer declared.

"This is a politically divided state," Hann said, adding that for any Republican to succeed statewide, he needs to appeal to a broad range of voters.

Anderson, accompanied by a drum and flag unit, took to the stage with a video that featured maverick GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul's Minnesota leader giving her support to the former state auditor.

"A new political alignment is arising in Minnesota," Anderson said, promising to shrink government and abide by the constitution. "There is going to be a new sheriff in town, and she believes in the constitution."

Like other candidates, Anderson complained about a government that intrudes on private lives. "Men and woman are never free when government controls the fruits of their labor."

Haas appeared alone on stage, unlike most others who brought family and supporters.

He emphasized simplifying the state tax system.

A simpler tax system would provide businesses more money, which would help Minnesotans get jobs, Haas said. "Your family budget is going to experience more money."

The most unusual speech came from Jungbauer, who as bitten by a bat a few weeks ago and said people now call him "Batman."

Telling women not to listen, the state senator said he has been experiencing nausea like pregnant women and hot flashes like older women because of a series of rabies-preventing shots.

"It is a way for God to get a hold of you and give you a dose of humility," Jungbauer said.

Davis did not avoid the fact that he was in a mostly hostile audience, since he is known as a more liberal environmentalist but usually runs under the Republican banner.

The straw poll was not that exciting, he said. "It will be kind of a ho-hummer. ... Or what you could do is fire a shot heard around the world; you could vote for Leslie Davis."

"It takes a little courage on your part, but nobody will know that you did it," he said to laughs from delegates.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.