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Unified Republican Party now faces task of convincing public it’s in Minnesota’s mainstream

Although Republicans left their convention believing they  and their nominee represent Minnesota’s mainstream, Sunday — and other parties’ candidates for governor — raised questions about whether that’s true.Eric Black: Are liberals unconsti

Rep. Tom Emmer addressing convention delegates on Friday. At left is his daughter Katie.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Rep. Tom Emmer addressing convention delegates on Friday. At left is his daughter Katie.

For all of the joyful unity Republicans celebrated Saturday, Sunday offered a far broader view of Minnesota. Although Republicans left their state convention believing they represent Minnesota’s mainstream, Sunday — and other parties’ candidates — raised questions about whether that’s true.

On Saturday, Republicans gathered for their unity breakfast at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, amid genuine excitement over Friday’s endorsement of Tom Emmer.

Already, it was obvious by the receptions they received, that Gov. Tim Pawlenty is yesterday’s news. Emmer now is the party’s guy.

At the unity breakfast on the last day of the Republican state convention, Pawlenty received nice applause when he spoke.

But his biggest applause line came for his comments about Emmer. For his introduction of the hockey-coaching Republican gubernatorial candidate, the hockey-loving governor took a line from Ross Bernstein’s book, “The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL.”

“If you’re a crusher and you try to become a rusher, you’ll soon become an usher,” Pawlenty said.

GOP crowd loves its ‘crusher’
The crowd loved it. Republicans have endorsed a crusher.

When Emmer stepped to the podium, there was a huge ovation.

Like everyone else at the breakfast, Emmer heaped praise on Marty Seifert, the man he’d defeated Friday with stunning, two-ballot ease.

Emmer noted that Seifert approached Emmer’s wife, Jacqueline, immediately after conceding the endorsement. Jacqueline Emmer, recall, had written an open-letter to delegates at the start of the convention, expressing pain at the tone that Seifert and his supporters had taken in the last days of the campaign.

Whatever Seifert said to Jacqueline Emmer, Tom Emmer was moved.

“You will forever be a friend of mine,” Emmer said, from the podium, to Seifert, who was seated at a table near the front of the room.

The breakfast-eating crowd loved it.

They loved it, too, when their guy cracked a joke about one of his slips of the tongue that had happened on the exhausting campaign trail. Noting that Pawlenty had had a major slip in trying to say the word “puck” at a Minnesota Wild game, Emmer told this one on himself: “You gotta stand up and start farting for your country!”

The room filled with laughter.

And then he filled the room with cheers.

“We don’t take that bait [of being labeled extremists],” Emmer told the crowd. “Republicans are mainstream, Main Street Minnesota.”

Oh, how Emmer appealed to the people in and around this convention. Minnesotans will love this candidate, they believe. He can laugh at himself. He is able to speak with conviction to the things that concern so many. Best of all, he seems so genuine.

You walk away from the environment of the convention thinking that maybe these Emmer Republicans do represent a broad swath of Minnesota.

State filled with diverse passions
But Sunday was a reminder that this is a big state with a lot of people with a wide range of passions.

For example, Sunday was the second day of an event called the Living Green Expo at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. There were hundreds of people, many of whom had biked to the event on a cool and windy day, walking among the exhibits that included such things as solar panels and electric vehicles and bio-mass stoves and composting devices.

Included at the event was a governor’s forum, devoted to “clean energy, clean water and Minnesota’s future.”

There was seating for 1,000 people at the event, far more seats than needed.

The noteworthy thing about the event was the presence of the DFL gubernatorial candidates and the Independence Party candidates.

Emmer was invited, but he didn’t come.

“Shocking, isn’t it?” said DFLer Matt Entenza sarcatistically regarding Emmer’s decision not to attend.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL’s endorsed gubernatorial candidate, wasn’t surprised, either, by Emmer’s absence, either.

“I do believe the Tea Party has pushed them far to the right,” Kelliher said.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Margaret Anderson Kelliher

The DFLers felt a little rushed at the forum, where they were among friends. That’s because there was a huge event going on in the heart of Minneapolis, the annual May Day Parade, which attracted thousands of people.

Mark Dayton, Kelliher and Entenza wanted to make sure they did some meeting and greeting at that event, for there, too, they would be among friends from all backgrounds. Mark Dayton, Kelliher and Entenza all had big signs and delegations in the parade. An Emmer presence was not observed.

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Update: I’ve learned since publication that the Emmer campaign did indeed have a presence at the annual May Day parade in the Powderhorn Park area of south Minneapolis. That presence, it should be noted, came as a “surprise’’ to some parade-goers, but it does show that Emmer and his supporters will be reaching out to all areas of the state to spread their message.

Of course, Republicans are delighted that they are unified around a single candidate. But IP candidate Tom Horner said Sunday he believes that with the convention uniting around Emmer, at least 30 percent of Republicans now feel homeless. He’ll be trying to attract them to his presumed candidacy, though fellow IP candidate Rob Hahn insists that Horner is not assured of the IP spot on the November ballot.

Kelliher admits that it would be nice to be able to focus on Emmer, rather than having to wage a primary campaign against Entenza and Dayton.

“But it’s what we’re presented with, so that’s what we’ll have to do,” she said.

Entenza, Dayton defend challenging in DFL primary
Meanwhile, neither Entenza nor Dayton is apologetic about going to a primary against the party’s endorsed candidate. Dayton repeatedly has said that “no one in a democracy should ever oppose the idea of letting the people vote.”

For his part, Entenza said Sunday that the endorsement process is “an insider’s game.”

Matt Entenza
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Matt Entenza

“Look at the last four endorsed [DFL] candidates,” Entenza said. “An attorney general [Skip Humphrey], a Senate majority leader [Roger Moe], an attorney general [Mike Hatch] and now the speaker of the House (Kelliher). This is the only way to open up the process.”

A contested primary does mean there will be considerable attention paid to the DFL, which Republicans do understand could present a problem. Emmer could get lost in the shadows, admitted David Fitzsimmons, the campaign manager who helped propel Emmer from just another face in the Republican crowd to the party’s overwhelming choice to be their guy.

Already Saturday, Fitzsimmons was working with the party to broaden the campaign from its original focus on attracting 2,000 convention delegates to one that now must reach out to citizens across Minnesota.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.