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How the GOP’s big caucus turnout complicates the Second Congressional District endorsement fight

MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Tallying the votes at a Minnesota Republican caucus site last month.

The voters who swarmed the precinct caucuses for the presidential preference ballot last week delighted the state DFL and Republican parties with visions of fresh volunteers to help them to victories this fall. 

But the volume of caucus participants also presents a new challenge for local candidates as they try to secure delegates for their party endorsement fights. That’s especially the case in the crowded race for the Republican endorsement in the Second Congressional District, where Jason Lewis, Darlene Miller, John Howe, and David Gerson are all competing to replace retiring Rep. John Kline.

Last Tuesday, a staggering 18,800 voters attended precinct caucuses in the east and southeast suburbs of the Second District. Of that group, a couple of thousand people were elected delegates, people who will attend one of the 10 Senate district or county conventions throughout CD2 that make up the next part of the endorsement process, which starts this weekend. At those conventions, the delegates will get further winnowed to 303 delegates, a group that will determine who gets the GOP endorsement at the congressional district convention on May 7.

The campaigns obviously want as many of their supporters represented at the county and congressional district level as possible. So on caucus night, the candidates were threading their way through the crowds, trying to keep tabs on who showed up and who might move on to the next level.

Jason Lewis’ campaign director, Jack Dwyer, gave a cautiously optimistic assessment about how the night went for the Lewis campaign. “It’s fairly anecdotal ,but it went very well,” he said.  “The people we knew were going to turn out, turned out.”

Even so, there were delegates elected that Lewis’ team had not identified in their previous contacts with the district activists, an effort that began months before the precinct caucuses. 

With new activists, the big question is one of commitment — whether they stay with the delegate process and show up when and where they say they will. In other words, are they willing to show up for a county convention on a Saturday morning? “Hopefully they will attend … and run as a delegate again,” said Dwyer, who believes Lewis’ supporters will remain active. 

The 10 Senate district and county conventions in CD2 will take place over the next four weeks. When they’re over, the candidates will have pretty good idea of who’s likely to get the endorsement. Even after that, though, it’s expected that the winner will face one or more opponents in the Republican primary on Aug. 9.

In short, it will be a long and difficult road to the Republican nomination this year. And it will be followed by an even tougher general election against a Democratic candidate who, at this point, is expected to be Angie Craig — a candidate that, for now, has no DFL challengers.

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