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Karen Nelson, left, and Evelyn Paulson read through letters from straw poll candidates Tuesday during a Republican caucus at Willmar Middle School. The caucuses were the beginning of what is new to many Republicans: a path to an Aug. 12 primary election contest. Several candidates in both the Senate and governor races expect to continue their campaigns into primary races beyond the May 30-31 state convention in Rochester. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Ortman leads GOP Senate poll; race tight for governor

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Republicans appeared to have given Julianne Ortman the edge for U.S. Senate in an early snapshot of this year's campaigns, but Tuesday night they were not so clear on who they favor for governor.

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Marty Seifert held a lead most of the night in the governor's straw poll at precinct caucuses around the state, but Dave Thompson made it a tight race as Twin Cities Republicans reported in.

The secretary of state's office reported that Seibert had 29 percent of the poll vote and Thompson 25 percent with 89 percent of the GOP party units reporting.

Jeff Johnson ran third in the Republican effort to find a challenger for Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who is seeking his second term this year.

Three other candidates were not close.

In the Senate race, with three-fourths of the party units reporting, Ortman had 31 percent and Mike McFadden 23 percent, easily outdistancing the next closest of four other challengers in the GOP's attempt to unseat first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Most caucus meetings were routine, but organizers asked police to shut down one Democratic Minneapolis neighborhood site after a fight broke out.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that a verbal altercation turned into pushing, shoving and heated arguments that got out of control.

The caucus, at the Brian Coyle Center, began at 7 p.m. and was shut down after 45 minutes.

The local state House district is represented by Phyllis Kahn. She is being challenged by Mohamud Noor, a member of the Minneapolis school board who is also interim executive director for the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.

The incident briefly shined the spotlight on Democrats, but the GOP straw poll was the big story of the night.

Republican governor candidates are 35-year-old Hibbing special education teacher Rob Farnsworth; Orono businessman Scott Honour, 47; Hennepin County Commissioner Johnson, 47, a Detroit Lakes native; former state Rep. Seifert, 41, of Marshall; state Sen. Thompson, 52, of Lakeville; and former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, 44, of Maple Grove.

In the GOP U.S. Senate race are state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, 59; St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, 52, of Duluth; businessman McFadden, 49, of Sunfish Lake; bison farmer Monti Moreno, 53, of Marine on St. Croix; state Sen. Ortman, 51, of Chanhassen; and retired Army chaplain Harold Shudlick, 71.

While the main work Tuesday night was to pick delegates to move on to district and state conventions and to discuss issues, the spotlight was on GOP straw polls for the top-of-the-ticket races. The Democratic and Independence parties also hosted caucuses but did not conduct polls.

Tuesday night's caucuses were the beginning of what is new to many Republicans: a path to an Aug. 12 primary election contest. Several candidates in both the Senate and governor races expect to continue their campaigns into primary races beyond the May 30-31 state convention in Rochester.

That is unusual for the GOP, where candidates usually abide by the state convention endorsements.

Even though the straw poll is not binding and usually such surveys do not predict the eventual winner, it gives the field a frontrunner. As the leader, that candidate has an advantage when soliciting campaign donations and often will get more media attention.

Honour has the most money, both personally and in his campaign, of any of the GOP governor candidates.

Johnson and Thompson have said they will drop out of the race if they do not earn the state convention governor endorsement. Zellers, Seifert and Honour likely will go to a primary regardless of who receives the endorsement.

As poll results came in Tuesday night, Zellers said that despite his relatively low finish in the poll, he will remain in the race.

"This campaign is a marathon, not a sprint," Zellers said.

McFadden has collected far more money than all other Republican Senate candidates combined, but is an untested candidate. McFadden and Abeler are expected to compete in a primary election, regardless of who the state convention backs in May.

Results of Republican nonbinding straw poll with 113 of 127 local party units reporting:

Governor

Rob Farnsworth, 2%

Scott Honour, 9%

Jeff Johnson, 17%

Marty Seifert, 29%

Dave Thompson, 25%

Kurt Zellers, 8%

Undecided, 10%

U.S. Senate

Jim Abeler, 14%

Chris Dahlberg, 11%

Mike McFadden, 23%

Monti Moreno, 2%

Julianne Ortman, 31%

Harold Shudlick, 2%

Undecided, 17%

Democratic and Independence party caucuses did not conduct straw polls.

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