GOP gathers in Rochester for 'shock and awe'
ROCHESTER, Minn. -- A little-known St. Louis County commissioner emerged Friday night as the Republican leader to take on Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
But Commissioner Chris Dahlberg's lead was fairly slim and Republican state convention delegates were prepared to meet well into this morning.
Republicans were looking ahead to Aug. 12 even before they began casting ballots Friday night.
Two of the Senate candidates had said they would run in the summer primary election, regardless of the state GOP convention endorsement vote.
Balloting began early Friday evening at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center and with 60 percent needed to win endorsement, Dahlberg surprised many by taking the fifth-ballot lead with 44 percent. Twin Cities businessman Mike McFadden followed with 34 percent.
State Sen. Julianne Ortman was removed from the ballot when she failed to reach a 20 percent threshold. She did not publically endorse either remaining candidate, leaving the first early Saturday vote a potential decisive one.
Dahlberg said he was somewhat surprised by his lead because he was the last major candidate to enter the race.
"A lot of people, we already knew, were wavering," Dahlberg said.
During his presentation to the convention, Dahlberg said that other candidates in the race "are changing their positions."
The former military man said: "You will not see me waver on the Second Amendment" to protect gun ownership.
He said Republicans need to help pave the way for copper and nickel mining in his northeastern Minnesota area.
Dahlberg said he is electable, beating an entrenched Democratic incumbent in his 2008 run for county commissioner in heavily Democratic St. Louis County.
"I am the only one tested in battle," he said. "I have won three times in northeast Minnesota."
McFadden and state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka said before the vote that while they wanted the convention's endorsement, they would run in the primary even if delegates picked someone else. Others said they would abide by the convention's wishes.
The only way that the race would not end up in the primary election would be if McFadden would win the endorsement and Abeler changed his mind and closed his campaign.
McFadden was the biggest question mark since he was making his first run at public office.
Dave Van Loh, a Cottonwood County farmer, stood in the back of the convention hall as former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman spoke, saying that if big-city boy Coleman could learn rural issues, so could McFadden.
Van Loh said McFadden "has a broad knowledge" of many issues and can learn to fill in the blanks as he goes on.
"You can learn," Coleman said in an interview. "The reality in this state is you have to learn."
McFadden, whose personal wealth is bound to make him a primary candidate to take seriously, began his video presentation showing farm scenes.
While rich today, McFadden said that as a young man "the closest I got to a country club was working there."
"I always had a job since I was a little kid," he said.
McFadden was critical of the federal government, but laid blame on both major parties.
Ortman defended Republicans, who Democrats say only have one answer: "No."
"We are not the party of 'no,' " Ortman said. "We are the party of solutions."
Like others at the GOP convention, Ortman criticized the federal Veterans Affairs Department, whose leader resigned Friday.
"The VA scandal is a very dark preview of what lies ahead in Obamacare," she said.