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What it will take for GOP presidential contenders to win Minnesota’s caucuses

Or why several presidential campaigns really want to talk to former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert. 

When Walker dropped out of the presidential field, representatives for Marco Rubio reached out to Marty Seifert seeking his support.
REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Winning a precinct caucus in Minnesota can’t be done by a grandiose gesture, by riding a wave of destiny.

Marty Seifert
Marty Seifert

Just ask Marty Seifert, the former Minnesota House minority leader whose organization and persistence led to victory at the Republican gubernatorial straw polls in 2010 and 2014, results that have prompted several GOP presidential campaigns to seek his support for 2016. 

Seifert was a state chair for Scott Walker. When Walker dropped out of the presidential field, representatives for Marco Rubio and Rand Paul reached out.  “It was less than 24 hours when both of those campaigns contacted me,” Seifert said. 

“I don’t hold any office, so I’m not sure why people are so hot to trot but they are interested in how we did it,” he said.    

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It was a lot of effort and a lot of work, Seifert recalled. “It takes months of organizing. We had people identified in every county as Seifert leaders or campaign captains. And we had a lot of current and former lawmakers, either a senator or a House member … read letters on my behalf.  We really targeted those people,” he said.

That display of support is particularly effective, Seifert believes because “generally people will say,  ‘I know that representative so and so, and if they’re for Marty Seifert he must be a good guy.’ We really capitalized on that aspect of things.”    

In 2010, Seifert won the precinct caucus straw poll with just over 50 percent of the vote. In 2014, he won it with 29 percent of the vote. (In both cases, Seifert eventually lost his bid to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee — to Tom Emmer in 2010 and to Jeff Johnson in 2014.)

Sen. Dave Thompson
Sen. Dave Thompson

In the 2014 poll, Seifert barely edged out state Sen. Dave Thompson, also a Walker backer, who had a different strategy. “I had the benefit of name recognition,” said Thompson, who had been a the host of radio talk show and  a conservative favorite known for taking on organized labor with legislative proposals and pithy quotes. 

But that won’t work in the race to win the Republican nomination for president, Thompson contends. “It’s money, money, money,” he said. “They just flat out have to have money.  Yes, you can do things with volunteers but you have to pay people to be organized. That’s why so many people think it comes down Jeb Bush.” 

Seifert concurs on the need for paid staff. “Unless you have super dedicated volunteers, you have to have a day-to-day person who is doing this, which I had when I was running for governor,” he said. “It’s not a casual thing. You can’t end up in mid-February and get people out for the caucuses on March 1.” 

A few Republican presidential candidates have named state leaders. State Sen. David Hann has pledged his support for Carly Fiorina. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is working on behalf Marco Rubio.  Rand Paul has a paid state organizer and the benefit of an organization his father Ron Paul developed when Minnesota delegates pledged their votes to Paul at the 2014 GOP national convention.

“But it’s anybody’s game in Minnesota right now,” Seifert said.