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Likely early front-runners in GOP race for governor, U.S. Senate

The Minnesota Republican Party’s state central committee takes a straw poll on Saturday, and here’s who has the inside track.

Jeff Johnson
Jeff Johnson

This is the first of a regular MinnPost feature called Party Politics providing news and analysis about Minnesota’s political parties and the parties’ leaders, candidates and supporters.

For those interested in political inside baseball, the best game in town right now takes place Saturday as delegates to the Minnesota Republican Party’s state central committee take a straw poll to indicate the party’s preference for candidates for U.S. senator and governor.

The poll is not binding, of course, and based on earlier straw polls, not even predictive of what Republican delegates will decide in 2014 at their state convention. But it can be a determinant of the weakest candidates in the field, at least from the perspective of Republican activists.

This is retail politics. The candidates must court individually the members of the state central committee and their alternates, a time-consuming task.  Hennepin County Commissioner and Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson is considered the front-runner to win the gubernatorial straw poll, based on his familiarity with the membership. On the Senate side, state Sen. Julianne Ortman and businessman Mike McFadden appear to have equal footing.

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Michael Brodkorb, former deputy chair of the state GOP, provides an unvarnished analysis of the strengths and weakness of the candidates on his blog.

As many as 1,000 delegates and alternates could be present at the meeting in Blaine, making for a long day since the ballots are counted by hand.

While the straw poll will be the highlight of the day, the media invitation to the meeting hints that party Chair Keith Downey hopes to signal a new era for the party, still weighted with debt and election losses.

“With renewed purpose and positive progress to report,” Downey welcomed the media to observe “the new-look Republican party leadership.”