Even by Republican Party insiders’ standards, the showdown between St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg and businessman Mike McFadden for the U.S. Senate endorsement is a surprise.
Dahlberg has had a strong showing since the first ballot, while state Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, was considered the frontrunner for the endorsement when the convention started.
Now, Mike McFadden has a late-game lead with roughly 53 percent of the vote.
On top of that, the process should have been long over by now, say long-time political observers.
But as delegates vote for the 10th time on the second day of the party’s statewide convention, the endorsement – or if there will even be one – is still up in the air.
Former state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said the process was complicated to begin with. There were several candidates and many delegates arrived in Rochester undecided about whom they would support.
“I think there was just a lot of indecision going into this convention and you could feel that walking in,” she said. “People’s presentations yesterday mattered.”
To that end, Dahlberg may have picked up support just by stepping up to the podium. Some delegates who spoke with MPR News said that they liked Dahlberg’s speech – particularly his points about his ability to secure enough support to win elections in the DFL stronghold of the Duluth-area.
Koch said she thinks the mood at this year’s convention is different than it was two years ago, when Republicans met to endorse a candidate to run against Sen. Amy Klobuchar. That year, delegates supported Kurt Bills.
Delegates are looking for someone who can win against Franken, not someone who is necessarily the most conservative.
“What I hear on the floor is all about who can win,” Koch, who is supporting McFadden, said.
“There’s a good feeling that Republicans are on an upswing, they’ve got a really good shot this November, and they want to pick the candidate who is going to go all the way,” she said.
On that front, both Dahlberg with his talk of bring in Democratic voters and McFadden, with his ability to raise millions appeal to delegate.
GOP strategist and Minnesota Jobs Coalition chairman Ben Golnik agreed that the delegates are different this year. He pointed out that some of the fervor surrounding Ron Paul’s presidential campaign that helped Bills win the endorsement in 2012 isn’t as strong this off-presidential year.
He also pointed out that the campaigns aren’t as organized as they could have been, which means they may have had trouble courting delegates effectively in the months leading up to the convention.
“I don’t think any of these campaigns had the bandwidth to have 4,5,6,8,10 staffers,” said Golnik , who isn’t backing a specific candidate. “When you have three or four candidates, I think it’s just wide open. If you don’t have that staff, you don’t have that organization in place.”
Now, everyone is wondering what Ortman will do. She pledged early on to abide by the endorsement, but couldn’t move forward in the race after the 5th ballot because she didn’t get enough votes.
She gave a short speech to delegates and left the convention without saying if she would continue her campaign or asking her delegates to throw their support to another candidate.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown said that made sense for her.
“I think that’s a smart play on her part,” Daudt said. “If there’s no endorsement, she can jump back in and be in the primary.”
The possibility of no endorsement doesn’t seem unreasonable now. After the 10th round of voting with no clear winner, delegates can opt not to endorse anyone.