ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Republicans shaped the top of a high-stakes election ticket Saturday, endorsing investment banker Mike McFadden for U.S. Senate and closing in on official backing of county commissioner Jeff Johnson for governor as the party tries to end Democratic political dominance in the state.
McFadden's win spares him a hard primary fight and offers a clearer path to a November challenge to Democratic Sen. Al Franken. The race could help determine if U.S. Senate control flips from Democratic to Republican this fall.
The governor's race is messier. Johnson, who serves on Hennepin County's board, was on the cusp of gaining a fourth-ballot endorsement but a sure primary was ahead.
He outlasted three other contenders — state Sen. Dave Thompson, former state Rep. Marty Seifert and special education teacher Rob Farnsworth. Thompson withdrew after losing ground on the third ballot, and Seifert released his delegates as he announced he would join businessman Scott Honour and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers in skipping to a primary.
"Everyone in this room knows that I was not triggering a primary," Seifert said as he left the stage to boos.
Moments earlier, Thompson endorsed Johnson and urged other Republicans to clear his path to a November challenge to Gov. Mark Dayton.
"I would implore my opponents to think about whether running in the primary is for the good of the cause or for elevation of self," he said.
The party is particularly hungry to defeat Dayton, whom they accuse of taking Minnesota in the wrong direction. They drove the theme home in speeches and biographical videos intended to sway the 2,200 delegates that were making the decision.
"Sorry Governor Dayton, your days are numbered" were the words that flashed on big screens in a video by Thompson, who played up his own willingness to tackle controversial topics such as a proposal to rewrite state laws related to union membership.
Seifert labeled Dayton a "liberal huckster" and presented himself as someone who can compete in all 87 counties among all types of voters. Johnson said he could run with "humor and humility" and escape caricatures that Republicans aren't looking out for average voters. Farnsworth emphasized his religious underpinning and commitment to conservative social values.
The Senate outcome was somewhat of a surprise because McFadden didn't agree to abide by the convention's decision heading in. That is usually a deal-breaker for delegates.
"This is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end," McFadden told the convention as he accepted the endorsement. "This is only the end of the beginning."
McFadden stressed his ability to raise the millions needed to wage an effective campaign. He said his experience in the business sector would provide a clear contrast with Franken.
McFadden overtook St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg for the win after 10 ballots. The race featured six candidates at the outset. One of them, state Rep. Jim Abeler, is still mulling a primary campaign but said the McFadden win "raises the bar" on the race.
So far, Minnesota's race isn't among the nation's most competitive in the fight for Senate control, but Republicans hope McFadden puts it on the map.
Franken was in Duluth to gain his own party's endorsement for a second term. He has raised millions of dollars. He wouldn't get into a back-and-forth about McFadden but said he expected "a hard-fought" election lay ahead.
The Democrat squeaked into office after a recount and court case in which he edged Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes. Republicans blamed him for the health insurance law requiring people to carry coverage because his election provided a crucial 60th Senate vote. And they said he hasn't stood up to President Barack Obama.
Coleman begged his party to not let Franken slip by again.
"In 2014, whoever our candidate is chosen to run against Al Franken, I ask that you stand with me and make sure there is no recount and there is no do-over," he said.