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Dahlberg holds GOP Senate lead as convention recesses until Sat. morning

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chris Dahlberg addresses the Republican state convention Friday, May 30, 2014. Dahlberg is a St. Louis County commissioner. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)1 / 3
Mike McFadden, a Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate, tells Republican state convention delegates Friday, May 30, 2014, that Republicans and Democrats alike have fouled up in Washington. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis) 2 / 3
U.S. Senate candidate Julianne Ortman makes a point Friday, May 30, 2014, as she asks Minnesota Republican convention delegates for their support in her U.S. Senate campaign. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)3 / 3

By Don Davis

Forum News Service

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- A little-known St. Louis County commissioner emerged early today as the Republican leader to take on Democratic Sen. Al Franken before tired and cranky state convention delegates decided to recess

at 2 a.m.

 Commissioner Chris Dahlberg's lead was slim enough that the outcome was uncertain.

Delegates are due back at convention hall at 9 a.m. After they decide on a Senate candidate, they begin considering which of four governor candidates to back.

Republicans were looking ahead to Aug. 12 even before they began casting ballots Friday night and early today.

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 Friday at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center and with 60 percent needed to win endorsement, Dahlberg surprised many by taking the seventh-ballot lead with 54 percent. Twin Cities businessman Mike McFadden followed with 44 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.

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.

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.