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Democratic convention won't yield final answer

DULUTH -- Democratic-Farmer-Labor convention delegates will whittle down the Minnesota governor's race this weekend, but will not pick their November election candidate.

Regardless of what happens at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, DFLers likely will face at least four names on their Aug. 10 primary election ballots because some candidates say they will ignore delegates and challenge the convention endorsee.

Still, about 1,400 convention delegates will eliminate many big names in balloting scheduled to start Saturday morning. Voting could run into early Sunday as delegates pick their favorite candidate from the most crowded race political observers remember.

A primary election contest comes as no surprise to DFL leaders.

"We almost always have primary challengers," DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said. "That is the cost of doing business in the DFL Party."

The convention could deadlock and not pick a winner, but Melendez said that is unlikely since delegates' major job is to endorse a candidate.

Candidates widely thought to be leaders for the endorsement, state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, pledge to drop out of the race if they do not receive the convention's support. So do state Sen. John Marty, state Rep. Tom Rukavina and state Rep. Paul Thissen.

However, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former state Rep. Matt Entenza and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner say they plan to run in the primary election regardless of what convention delegates decide.

The remaining two DFL candidates, Ole Savior and Felix Montez, are long shots and are not expected to play a role in the endorsement.

While the Democratic governor nominee will remain up in the air until Aug. 10, Republicans' top candidates pledge to abide by their delegates' decision and not challenge the April 30 convention's endorsee in a primary. The Independence Party picks its candidate May 8.

While a primary contest will occur regardless of delegates' decisions, party officials say the convention is important. DFL figures show that the convention-endorsed governor candidate won the primary 90 percent of the time since the party was created in 1944.

The convention begins at mid-day today, with the afternoon featuring endorsements of Attorney General Lori Swanson, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for second terms. None is opposed by a fellow Democrat and Melendez said he expects no serious last-minute challenges because "all have done spectacularly well."

Most of the Saturday activity is to be endorsing a governor candidate.

The convention is expected to end at mid-day Sunday.

The governor's contest likely will drag out because the number of candidates should spread out the votes. The longest recent Minnesota governor endorsement was in 2002 when Republicans picked now-Gov. Tim Pawlenty; it took 12 ballots and ended at 3 a.m.

Under convention rules, a candidate needs 60 percent of delegate votes to win the endorsement. Those getting few votes drop off of the next ballot.

New this year is a group called reNEW Minnesota, which claims 156 delegates who at some point will decide together to vote for one of their favored candidates: Thissen, Rybak or Kelliher. The group of delegates could play a role in who wins the endorsement.

"We're not 'queen makers' or 'king makers' -- we're movement builders," reNEW Executive Director Dan McGrath wrote to supporters. "We'll be around long after this weekend's convention making sure a strong candidate emerges that can win the general election and partner with us to change the direction of our state."

As the DFL convention nears, leading candidates have rolled out big-name supporters designed to help attract delegates.

For Kelliher, former Vice President Walter Mondale offered his support, calling her "the most electable candidate." Rybak earned backing from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who praised his Twin Cities colleague's executive experience.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.