GOP gubernatorial candidates make opening pitches

Four candidates seeking the Republican Party’s endorsement to run against Gov. Mark Dayton in November focused on messages of electability and conservative convictions in their addresses to the party faithful.

Marty Seifert, Rob Farnsworth, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville are in a four-way competition for the endorsement.

Two others – Scott Honour and Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove – are not seeking the party’s endorsement, but will compete in the August primary.

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert. Tom Scheck/MPR News

Both Seifert and Johnson positioned themselves as candidates who will appeal to a range of voters.

Seifert, who is from Marshall in west central Minnesota, was up first, touting what he said is support in all of the state’s counties.

“We as Republicans need to welcome all to our side,” Seifert said. “Whether people be black or white, rich or poor, rural, urban or suburban, they are treated equally in the eyes of God, we will make sure they are treated equally in the eyes of government.”

Johnson made a similar argument, drawing on his experience winning a spot on the Hennepin County Commission.

In particular, Johnson said his focus will be on picking up support in urban areas, typically DFL strongholds.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Tom Scheck/MPR News

“I’ve won multiple times – big – in Hennepin County, despite my conservative record,” Johnson said. “I have many independents and moderates who do not agree with me but trust me and vote for me anyway. And we can use that same formula to work all across the metro area.”

Johnson’s introduction video featured endorsements from a number of supporters around the state, including Cam Winton, a Republican Minneapolis mayoral candidate who ran unsuccessfully in last year’s election.

Meanwhile, Farnsworth and Thompson made conservative principles the cornerstone of their speeches.

“Members of our own party are telling us to stop talking about these social issues,” said Farnsworth, a special education teacher from Hibbing. “But we are Republicans and there are still some things worth fighting for.”

Farnsworth criticized a bullying bill and bill that makes some forms of medical marijuana legal that Gov. Mark Dayton recently signed into law.

Thompson also condemned what he considers is too much state government involvement in personal liberties.

State Sen. Dave Thompson. Tom Scheck/MPR News

“I believe that our rights are given by God,” he said. “I don’t believe that our rights are given to us by government. I can tell you right now, that belief is not shared by the clowns who are running St. Paul.”

Thompson talked up his efforts to put what’s called a right-to-work constitutional amendment on the ballot and his support of efforts to give parents more choice of where they send their kids to school.

Now, delegates begin casting their endorsement votes. Like the drawn-out Senate fight, the battle for the GOP gubernatorial endorsement is expected to be long and hard-fought.