ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — After elaborate videos, sharply worded speeches and even indoor fireworks, Minnesota Republicans tried Friday to settle on a favorite candidate for U.S. Senate to oppose a Democratic incumbent they consider vulnerable.
Half a dozen candidates vied for the GOP endorsement at the state party convention in Rochester, though the winner will likely have to overcome an August primary challenge to face Democratic Sen. Al Franken in November. Many of the 2,000 delegates said they were struggling to pick between several contenders with proven conservative track records and one rookie candidate who has lapped the field in fundraising.
The first ballot showed St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, businessman Mike McFadden, state Sen. Julianne Ortman and retired naval officer Phillip Parrish with similar measures of support. No one was above 25 percent, well shy of the 60 percent needed for endorsement.
State Rep. Jim Abeler and farmer Monte Moreno were far behind. Abeler and McFadden could run in a primary without the endorsement. The rest say they’ll drop out if the party endorses someone else.
First-time delegate Barry Kukowski, a St. Cloud business owner, entered the convention torn, and campaigns were fighting for his attention. He slapped a McFadden sticker on as he spoke at length with the candidate but pulled it off soon after, saying he would remain undecided until he had a ballot in his hands.
“I’m looking for a conservative candidate in all areas, somebody who is not going to be a ‘yes man’ in Washington D.C.,” Kukowski said. He eventually opted for Parrish, a low-budget candidate who stirred the convention with a rousing speech.
Delegates heard full-throated calls to gut the nation’s new health law, trim spending and dump a set of education standards many conservatives loathe, Common Core. They watched high-quality biographical videos and listened to family testimonials before weighing in.
McFadden, who’s never held an elected office but has already scooped up millions in campaign donations, stressed that outsider status as he repeatedly said voters aren’t enamored with either party’s record in Washington. He left the stage to a balloon drop, streamers shooting from the rafters and an ear-popping fireworks display.
“We’ve created a professional class of politicians, and it is killing us, and Republicans are as bad as Democrats,” he said. “I’m as far from a professional politician as you can find.”
His rivals, though, said the Senate isn’t an entry-level political job.
“It takes experience,” Abeler said. “No amount of money can beat that.”
The sharpest barbs were reserved for Franken, the Democrat who squeaked into office after a recount and court case in which he edged Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes. They blamed him for the health insurance law requiring people carry coverage because his election provided a crucial 60th Senate vote. And they said he hasn’t stood up to President Barack Obama when it counted.
“C’mon, who made the decision to hire the comedian?” Ortman cracked, referring to Franken’s “Saturday Night Live” fame. “It’s time to call human resources and prepare Al’s termination notice. But let’s make sure he takes his health care plan with him.”
She and others said they would vote to scrap the law — “and never replace it,” Ortman said.
Dahlberg played up geography in making his case. While he serves as a commissioner elected without party designation, his campaign team stressed his standing as a Republican in northeastern Minnesota, where Democrats usually run up big numbers.
“Any Republican can get votes in Republican districts,” the narrator of his introduction video said. “But if that’s all we do, Franken will coast to election in November.”
Franken was headed to Duluth for his party’s convention on Saturday, where he faces no opposition for the party’s endorsement.
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