Kelliher Faces DFL Challenges

Kelliher and the rest


Democratic-Farmer-Laborites left their weekend convention saying they were united, but signs of discord even surfaced at a party celebrating Margaret Anderson Kelliher’s endorsement.

Standing amid dozens of Kelliher T-shirt-clad convention delegates early Sunday, Aaron Wittnebel really wanted to like his party’s endorsed candidate. But he just could not make that leap.

The Lake Park resident who turns 29 next month said he does not feel Kelliher knows how to keep young people energized in the party. He asked her about that and "she did not have any response."

Wittnebel backs Matt Entenza, one of a trio of long-time party activists who will fight Kelliher in an Aug. 10 primary election, even before the House speaker can turn to attention to battling her Republican opponent, likely either Tom Emmer of Delano or Marty Seifert of Marshall, in the November election.

The GOP state convention will pick between Seifert and Emmer on Friday, and both pledge to abide by the delegates’ decision, giving the Republican candidate a head start in the general election.

Kelliher, a Mankato-area farm girl who now lives in Minneapolis and is wrapping up her fourth year as state House speaker, outlasted four other serious candidates through six ballots Saturday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

First it was state Sen. John Marty of Roseville who dropped out. Then state Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia fell, followed by state Rep. Paul Thissen.

Only Kelliher and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak remained, and Kelliher had pulled out to a double-digit lead. At 11:10 p.m. Saturday, Rybak took the stage to concede and asked delegates, by then expecting his announcement, to back Kelliher.

Moments later, Kelliher walked onto the stage to the song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

"DFLers are you ready to make some history, to make history together?" she asked, indirectly referring to her status as the first women of leading a major party’s governor ticket. "We must and can do better for Minnesota."

Kelliher, her family standing with her, said she plans to build a strong grassroots campaign "as we go on to victory in August and in November."

"Democrats, are you ready to work?" she asked in a brief victory speech. "I am am ready to work."

She ended her speech with a simple plea: "Win with me."

Despite all the convention talk about unity, the party faces more than three months of battles among Kelliher, Entenza, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner.

Entenza, a former state House minority leader, allowed his name to be placed in nomination Saturday, but then withdrew from the endorsement race, reminding delegates that he would go on to the primary election regardless of who they picked. He drew a few boos at various times when his name was mentioned.

Dayton all along has said he would run in the primary and after Gaertner failed to attract many delegates she opted for a primary run, too.

People like Wittnebel are just not quite convinced Kelliher is the right Democrat for the November election.

His doubt about attracting young people "is a serious concern," he said in the midst of a downtown Duluth party that was rather calm considering it was designed to celebrate a victory.

Wittnebel said other things about Kelliher’s record concern him, too. For instance, he said, the General Assistance Medical Care program for the poor "should have been fully funded" instead of Kelliher accepting a compromise with GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty for less money.

Nearby at the victory party, Duluth Mayor Don Ness, a Rybak supporter, said the night was bittersweet. He said that the Rybak party, even in a loss, was more exciting than the Kelliher one.

"I will do everything I can to support her," the convention’s host city mayor said.

Alan Parish of Browerville, the Todd County Farmers’ Union president, said he went to the convention as a Rukavina supporter, but Kelliher will be "fine, just fine."

Like many party activists, Perish was not happy with the trio fighting Kelliher in the primary. To him, the endorsed candidate "is who we should go with."

State Sen. Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids said the convention’s overriding theme was simple: "We have to get a governor who is a Democrat." He called the convention civil.

State Rep. Loren Solberg, also from Grand Rapids, said Kelliher faces a tough battle in the primary.

"She is going to have to work," he said, especially considering that Dayton and Entenza have large personal bank accounts to help fund their campaigns. "It’s going to be difficult."

Solberg said that Kelliher’s plan to build a strong grassroots organization is a good thing. "Volunteers are able to make more impact than a lot of money."

Kelliher at reNEW Minnesota late Saturdahy