State Republican Convention: Rural Republicans think about Emmer
Lorna Beyers woke up Saturday morning with a tough decision: Should she pin on a Tom Emmer button?
It seems to be a little thing, but thousands of rural Minnesota Republicans face Beyers' decision. After supporting Marty Seifert for the Republican governor endorsement, and buying into the idea that Emmer and running mate Annette Meeks represent the Twin Cities but had no rural background, rural Republicans need to decide whether they can support their former opponent.
Beyers, leader of the Pipestone County's Minnesota Republican delegation to the state convention in Minneapolis, looked at that Emmer button Saturday morning and decided that for the good of the party she had but one decision. "I put it on."
"We'll get 'em," she declared of the general election, where Emmer will face an opponent to be decided in the Aug. 10 Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary election.
Rural Republicans leaders are convinced rural Minnesota can go for Emmer, now that the last rural governor candidate is out of the race.
Seifert, a state House member from southwest Minnesota's Marshall, put the task succinctly: "We just have to work on it."
Emmer, a Delano state representative, won the party's endorsement for governor after Seifert pulled out of the race at 4:46 p.m. Friday. Seifert's decision followed the 2,000 delegates' second ballot, which Emmer won 56 percent to 44 percent, with 60 percent needed to automatically win.
Seifert's loss left a huge chunk of rural Republicans without a candidate they fully support.
On Friday's balloting, the 1st, 7th and 8th congressional districts went heavily for Seifert. They represent by far the bulk of rural Minnesota, pretty much everything outside of the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.
Seifert noted that Emmer received "zero from Moorhead south to the Iowa border."
After a Saturday GOP unity breakfast, Emmer gave a curt answer when asked if he was worried about the rural vote: "No."
However, his actions told a different story.
When a reporter asked Emmer about rural opposition shortly after he was endorsed Friday, the candidate pointed out that he has farm constituents in his far western Twin Cities House district, which he has served since 2005. He also pointed out that his campaign manager raises 1,700 dogs.
Friday night, Emmer saw the reporter again and said once again that he is connected to rural Minnesota and is sure rural Republicans will support him.
Then on Saturday, near the beginning of his first post-endorsement speech, Emmer brought up the rural issue on his own, calling Campaign Manager David FitzSimmons "the hog farmer who runs my campaign."
"This is a statewide campaign," Emmer said.
Seifert, who now backs Emmer, said he would do everything possible to help the endorsee in what politicians know as Minnesota's "L." That is the southern and western part of Minnesota where voters can go either for Republicans or Democrats, an area that has decided many statewide campaigns.
"We still have some work to do," Seifert said in an interview after the unity gathering.
A day earlier, Seifert was blasting the Emmer-Meeks ticket for being all Twin Cities.
The three major Democratic governor candidates, running in a primary election, also are Twin Cities residents. Even though the endorsed DFL candidate, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, was raised on a southern Minnesota farm, Seifert said, "she's a Minneapolis liberal."
As the state GOP convention neared its end on Saturday, rural delegates agreed with Seifert.
When former Seifert supporter Gerry Schiller of Becker County's Waubun was asked if he is an Emmer backer now, he said: "You gotta be. ... He should be fine."
"Generally, Republicans do unite," Schiller said. "People are licking their wounds from last night."
Jennifer Havlic of near Two Harbors, a state Senate candidate and alternate convention delegate, said Emmer is not just being handed support.
"He is going to have to work hard," she said.
Havlik said Emmer needs to learn about all areas of the state to be an effective candidate, and tailor his speeches to his location: "Speak to those things."
Beyers, the Pipestone County GOP leader, said Republicans will come around and back Emmer.
"I think maybe next week we are going to be behind him," she said.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.