Tom, Billy Emmer
Conservative political activists know Tom Emmer, but as the Republican candidate for governor he now plans to introduce himself to a wider audience.
"This is where it all begins," Emmer shouted to nearly 2,000 Minnesota Republican convention delegates late Friday afternoon, moments after he gained the party’s endorsement.
Emmer’s victory over fellow state Rep. Marty Seifert came stunningly quickly, after the convention’s second ballot showed Emmer with 56 percent support to Seifert’s 44 percent. Sixty percent was needed to win.
Before voting began, GOP observers predicted that several times that many ballots would be needed.
After the second ballot results were announced, Seifert took to the stage at 4:46 p.m. and asked the convention to unanimously back Emmer. Delegates quickly agreed and the two former foes stood with their hands clasped high in the air.
With widespread but not unanimous GOP support, Emmer faces token opposition in the Aug. 10 primary election. Democratic endorsee Margaret Anderson Kelliher is opposed by big-money candidates Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza.
Tongue-in-cheek, Seifert thanked Democrats for providing an expensive distraction while the Republican candidate can reach out to voters.
Emmer said that is just what he plans to do. He spent the past several months traveling the state introducing himself to Republicans; now, he said, he must do that to voters in general.
The 49-year-old Delano state representative, who entered the House in 2005, was nearly unknown outside of his western Twin Cities suburb when Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced in June that he would not seek a third term.
Seifert immediately announced he would run for governor, but Emmer took a few weeks longer to decide. Emmer trailed Seifert in a fall GOP straw poll, but gained support as he traveled the state debating other candidates.
Much of Emmer’s support comes from the Tea Party movement, which supports smaller government and lower taxes. As the movement grew in Minnesota, so did Emmer’s backing.
"Today we begin a journey to take back our state and take back our country," Emmer said in a fiery speech, adding that his candidacy is a new chapter in Republican history.
Like U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said earlier in the day, Emmer told delegates that government is involved in every aspect of American lives. And he left no doubt that disturbed him, and delegates agreed.
"Now is also the time for a new style of leadership: leadership based on principles, our principles of smaller government, individual liberty and economic freedom," he said
In a speech with no detailed proposals, Emmer said he will "change the culture of government" to make it work for the public instead of government dictating to Americans.
The father of seven, whose family stood alongside him as he accepted the endorsement, said Minnesotans no longer should "tolerate political games. We need leaders who have a lifetime of experiences outside of government,"
Emmer supporters complained that Seifert’s seven terms in the Legislature, on top of working for schools and a university, mean he is too connected to government. Emmer was a city council member before going to the Legislature.
"We need servant leaders who will negotiate on behalf of the people and not on behalf of government," Emmer said.
Emmer emphasized his background in the private world, from being jack-hammer operator to running his own law office: "My experience is real life experience and I believe that if we are to transform government in this state and create an environment that is attractive to investment and opportunity … the next governor should have first-hand experience with the daily challenges of running a small business and creating jobs."
Emmer’s support was strongest in the Twin Cities area, and Seifert worked to bring rural delegates who backed him to Minneapolis.
Most delegates said they would support the winner, but some rural ones said they would struggle to back Emmer and his running mate, Annette Meeks.
Emmer defended his rural background, saying he represents rural areas of Wright County and his campaign manager raises 1,700 sows.
"They will come around," he said of rural Minnesotans. "These are some wounds that tend to heal."
Bud Vis of Edgerton liked Seifert because he best understands rural needs. "He’s rural Minnesota."
But a legislator from his area, Rep Rod Hamilton from Mountain Lake, was sitting at the back of the convention handing out Emmer buttons.
"I have a lot of respect for both of them," Hamilton said.
Former Rep. Bud Heidgerken of Freeport was one who worried about Emmer, and not just because of a lack of rural background.
"He comes across in an angry way," Heidgerken said.
Seifert said he thought he had a better chance to be elected in November, but not everyone agreed.
Goodhue County’s Gary Iocco, for instance, said he flipped from Seifert to Emmer because he thought Emmer had a better chance in November.
John Schroeder of Hubbard County said he was concerned because he had not heard many details of what Emmer would do.
But would he support Emmer? "It’s going to be tough."
Emmer signs rule