The race for gubernatorial endorsement between Reps. Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer will end up being less about the candidates and more about the mood of the 2,018 delegates coming to the Republican Party’s state convention.
If they’re of a mind to turn this convention into a “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore’’ Tea Party, the 49-year-old Emmer likely will prevail. If it’s a more traditional Republican Party, the advantage likely slides to Seifert, at 38 the youngest candidate of either party throughout this long campaign.
In terms of substance, there’s little difference between Emmer and Seifert. (Of course, the same could be said of the DFL candidates for governor at last week’s convention and the upcoming primary.)
Similar stands on GOP issues
Both GOP candidates believe in less government, lower taxes, freedom of the marketplace and oppose such “job killers” as cap-and-trade. Both stood up and cheered the highly controversial Arizona immigration bill during a debate Wednesday on Minnesota Public Radio. (“A wonderful first step, said Emmer.)
On social issues, the two also are an echo: opposed to abortion and to any hint of gay marriage.
But when it comes to style, the differences are huge.
Emmer is raw meat. Seifert is cooked medium rare.
Emmer is “NO!!!” Seifert is “no.”
Emmer is a hockey defenseman, looking for someone to check into the boards. Seifert is shiftier, a center iceman perhaps.
Emmer is a purist. He’s proud of the fact — as are his supporters — that he’s often one of a handful of Republicans who will vote “no’’ on a bipartisan bill that may maintain something unsavory to conservatives. Seifert, a student of government, points out that governing is not all give and take. Sometimes you have to give a little to gain a lot.
Strong impression that camps don’t like each other
Their style differences have created a strong impression that these two guys don’t like each other and that the dislike has carried over to their supporters. At one debate, for example, Emmer supporters accused Seifert supporters of dumping Emmer’s literature into urinals, which is pretty powerful symbolism.
The Emmer crowd believes that Seifert “will do anything” to get the endorsement. They point to the Seifert campaign releasing a letter from a supporter last week, bringing up 20- and 30-year old DWIs Emmer received. That part of Emmer’s past previously had been reported, but the Seifert campaign defends releasing the letter, saying delegates deserve to know.
Meantime, the Seifert campaign consistently makes veiled references to Emmer’s temper. For example, when Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem endorsed Seifert, he praised Seifert’s “temperament.’’ That was seen by the Emmer supporters as a back-handed slam at Emmer.
Certainly, that’s been an issue for the old hockey player, even among members of his own caucus. After one particularly feisty caucus session, Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, wrote a letter to his caucus saying that Emmer has “unresolved anger issues.’’
Rep. Laura Brod, who once was considered a potential gubernatorial candidate herself, says that Emmer’s bluster/temper should be a non-issue.
Early in this process, Seifert asked Brod to be his running mate. She not only turned him down but endorsed Emmer.
“There will be no Mike Hatch moments in this campaign,’’ Brod said, referring to Hatch losing his temper, and perhaps the governor’s race, in the final hours of the 2006 campaign.
Brod insists that Emmer turned up his bluster to support Seifert, when Seifert became House minority leader for the 2007 session and named Emmer, who’d want the leadership position, to serve as his whip. In the “good guy, tough guy’’ world of politics, Emmer often played the tough guy role, Brod said, to help Seifert hold the caucus together.
Where they came from
Both candidates have reasonably compelling come-from-political-nowhere stories to tell.
Seifert, a former high school teacher and later admissions counselor at Southwest State, was just 24 when he was elected to the House by the people in and around Marshall. He likes to portray himself as an underdog, a Catholic in a Lutheran state, a rural Minnesotan in a state more and more dominated by the population mass of the Twin Cities suburbs.
“Just a guy from way out in western Minnesota,” he says.
He started gaining statewide attention clear back in 1997, when he was the first to introduce legislation to toss the Profile of Learning, which was supposed to be the silver bullet to all K-12 education woes but quickly was seen as a program only a bureaucrat could love.
Emmer, on the other hand, grew up in Edina and was a good enough hockey player to have once played at a fairly high level of junior hockey. (No record of how much time he spent in the penalty box.) He’s still a hockey coach, and he and his wife have seven kids, all of whom are skaters on rinks in and around Delano.
He claims that he never intended to be in the position he’s in when he showed up as a freshman legislator in 2004. But now that he’s just one step away from being the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, he’s convinced that most Minnesotans share the positions he holds so dear.
Neither, by the way, thinks the media understand them.
Meantime, outside the convention hall, there are some Republicans hoping that the Seifert-Emmer showdown is a stalement, thus opening the way to a primary race that would bring new players into the game. Names such as Jim Ramstad, Steve Sviggum and even Norm Coleman are whispered, but only wistfully.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.