Republicans at the GOP state party convention in Rochester did most of what they planned to do Friday — and avoided some hurdles along the way.
After defeating moves to require paper balloting instead of using electronic counting and heading off a move to deny delegates to party affiliate groups — including gay Republicans — the 2,200 delegates endorsed candidates for auditor, secretary of state and attorney general.
Kim Crockett, an attorney who has been active in challenging the results of the 2020 election, was endorsed for secretary of state. Jim Schultz won the endorsement for attorney general. And Ryan Wilson, the only candidate seeking the party endorsement for state auditor, was endorsed as well.
Endorsement requires winning 60 percent support from the 2,200 convention delegates.
Unlike the DFL, which has nominated non-endorsed candidates for governor in 2010 and 2018, Republican primary voters give great weight to the endorsements. In the last thirty years, just once has a non-endorsed Republican candidate for statewide office won the party’s primary.
The same convention is set to endorse a GOP candidate for governor on Saturday.
The quicker picker prevails
But first, the convention had to figure out the answer to that universal question: paper or plastic?
State Republican Chair David Hann wanted the convention to vote using an electronic voting system that has been used in past conventions. Each delegate was given a plastic clicker resembling an early cell phone or a VCR remote. It would allow delegates to vote quickly, reducing the amount of time to go through multiple ballots for endorsements.
“Endorsing statewide candidates is one of the primary functions of the state party. It is the reason above all others that explains why we are here today,” Hann said. “Leaving this convention without endorsed candidates calls into question the value of our endorsement process and puts our election efforts at considerable risk of failure.”
The last time a Republican candidate for governor who was not endorsed won a primary was in 1994. Whether endorsements would be completed before the convention was required to vacate the Mayo Civic Center at 6 p.m. Friday was “in the hands of the delegates,” he said.
Electronic counts would be nearly instantaneous. Each paper ballot round could take up to two hours, Hann said.
“Paper. Paper, Paper,” shouted some delegates.
Hann condemned as a lie an assertion made by conservative group Action4Liberty that the party was using a “Dominion-like” system to conduct the convention. Dominion has been a boogeyman for Republicans, starting with former President Trump, based on unproven allegations of voter fraud in 2020.
“How hypocritical is it to use electronic voting,” said one delegate. “If we intend to be the party of election integrity in November, we have to be the party of election integrity today.”
Other delegates, however, defended the equipment and supported Hann’s assertion that using paper ballots would preclude the convention from endorsing in all four statewide elected offices starting with governor.
After a 20-minute debate, the clicker option prevailed on a standing vote.
One of the tests of the system asked delegates how many of the 2,200 were first-time delegates. Nearly 56 percent clicked “yes.” Past managers for candidates seeking the endorsement say a more-typical percentage is 40 percent. The campaigns that succeeded did the best in getting support from these newly active Republicans and likely were instrumental in motivating them.
Had there been paper ballots, Hann wanted to move the endorsement for governor from the end of the agenda to the front. Despite opting for clickers, delegates then debated whether to do the governor endorsement early anyway. The arguments for doing so surrounded the assertion that governor is the most important race in the state and should be decided with the maximum number of delegates. Those against feared the same thing, that delegates might not stick around for lesser offices attorney general, secretary of state and auditor.
The first two of those races are highly contested. Like the governor’s race, candidates who seek the office pledge to drop out if another wins the endorsement. Only if none get 60 percent of the vote are all free to file for the August primary.
The motion failed, leaving the endorsement in the governor’s race to Saturday’s agenda.
Schultz over Wardlow
In a dramatic endorsement fight, the GOP delegates picked Jim Schultz of Plymouth for Attorney General to face off against incumbent Democrat Keith Ellison.
Doug Wardlow, who lost to Keith Ellison for AG in 2018 by almost 4 percent, led significantly after the first round of voting but wasn’t close to the 60 percent needed for an endorsement. He entered the convention center with Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who has perpetrated false election fraud theories since 2020. Wardlow is MyPillow’s attorney and is endorsed by Lindell.
Schultz was in second after the first round, while former state lawmaker and judge Tad Jude was a distant third. But after the third ballot, Jude withdrew from the race and backed Schultz, who jumped into first on the fourth ballot. Wardlow then withdrew his endorsement bid, leaving Schultz to get the endorsement.
The 36-year-old Schultz has previously worked for Dorsey & Whitney, the investment firm Värde Partners and served on a Hennepin County Capital Budget task force after being appointed by then-Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. He went to Harvard Law School and specializes in regulatory, business and compliance law.
Schultz outlined a broad agenda for the conservative base, saying he is an outsider candidate who is endorsed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. He criticized Ellison for enforcing COVID-19 regulations on businesses and churches while big box stores were open; said he opposed vaccine mandates and would prosecute voter fraud and endorse voter identification requirements. Schultz said “biological males should not compete in women’s sports” and said schools shouldn’t teach “far-left theories.”
“A few elites — whether it be Keith Ellison or Tim Walz or Joe Biden, the corrupt corporate media or big tech — are shoving down our throats a militant far-left secularism antithetical to what America is,” Schultz said.
Rather than turn around the AG’s office, Schultz said, he would “take a sledgehammer to it,” and he told reporters he would make Ellison’s support for the failed 2021 Minneapolis ballot measure seeking to create a Department of Public Safety and eliminate the minimum requirement for officers a major part of the attorney general campaign.
Wardlow, who had similar priorities, has faced criticisms that he isn’t electable since he lost to an Ellison campaign that was marred by scandal, and he has since fully embraced Lindell’s false election fraud claims. Wardlow argued he was closer to beating Democrats than other Republican candidates for statewide office in 2018.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome Schultz.
“The fight against Keith Ellison starts tomorrow,” Schultz said. “We have in the attorney general’s office the most radical, extreme attorney general in history.”
Two candidates sought the endorsement for secretary of state. Kim Crockett, an attorney who has been involved in national efforts to challenge the 2020 election results, beat Kelly Jahner-Byrne, a former candidate for the statehouse.
“I worked hard to stop the train wreck of the 2020 election and then examined the wreckage to make sure it never happens again,” Crockett said. After winning the endorsement, Crockett said her efforts have influenced the party’s governor and attorney general candidates.
“I’ve been harping on election integrity since day one. Over the last few months of the campaign, it was so interesting, all of a sudden it sounded like everyone was running for secretary of state,” Crockett said. “They got the memo.”
For state auditor, Ryan Wilson was endorsed but was also the only GOP candidate for the office.