By Don Davis
Minnesota Republicans gave U.S. Senate candidate Julianne Ortman and governor candidate Marty Seifert bragging rights at Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses.
With 97 percent of straw poll votes counted this morning, the two came out atop crowded fields of candidates looking to upset Democratic incumbents Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken.
Ortman scored a bigger victory than Seifert. She picked up 31 percent of the nonbinding votes, with Mike McFadden getting 23 percent. No other candidate was close.
Seifert, meanwhile, edged Dave Thompson 28 percent to 26 percent. Seifert carried a comfortable lead most of the night, but Thompson nearly caught up when Twin Cities results began to mount late. Seifert entered the race late, but maintains strong name recognition and an organization from his run for governor four years ago.
Most caucus meetings in more than 4,000 precincts around the state were routine, but organizers asked police to shut down one Democratic Minneapolis neighborhood site after a fight broke out.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that a verbal altercation turned into pushing, shoving and heated arguments that got out of control.
The caucus, at the Brian Coyle Center, began at 7 p.m. and was shut down after 45 minutes.
The incident briefly shined the spotlight on Democrats, but the GOP straw poll was the big story of the night.
Republican governor candidates are 35-year-old Hibbing special education teacher Rob Farnsworth; Orono businessman Scott Honour, 47; Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, 47, a Detroit Lakes native; former state Rep. Seifert, 41, of Marshall; state Sen. Thompson, 52, of Lakeville; and former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, 44, of Maple Grove.
In the GOP U.S. Senate race are state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, 59; St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, 52, of Duluth; businessman McFadden, 49, of Sunfish Lake; bison farmer Monti Moreno, 53, of Marine on St. Croix; state Sen. Ortman, 51, of Chanhassen; and retired Army chaplain Harold Shudlick, 71.
While the main work Tuesday night was to pick delegates to move on to district and state conventions and to discuss issues, the spotlight was on GOP straw polls for the top-of-the-ticket races. The Democratic and Independence parties also hosted caucuses but did not conduct polls.
Tuesday night’s caucuses were the beginning of what is new to many Republicans: a path to an Aug. 12 primary election contest. Several candidates in both the Senate and governor races expect to continue their campaigns into primary races beyond the May 30-31 state convention in Rochester.
That is unusual for the GOP, where candidates usually abide by the state convention endorsements.
Even though the straw poll is not binding and usually such surveys do not predict the eventual winner, it gives the field a frontrunner. As the leader, that candidate has an advantage when soliciting campaign donations and often will get more media attention.
Results of Republican nonbinding straw polls with 97 percent of districts reporting:
Marty Seifert, 28%
Dave Thompson, 26%
Jeff Johnson, 17%
Scott Honour, 9%
Kurt Zellers, 8%
Rob Farnsworth, 2%
Julianne Ortman, 31%
Mike McFadden, 23%
Jim Abeler, 15%
Chris Dahlberg, 10%
Harold Shudlick, 3%
Monti Moreno, 2%
Democratic and Independence party caucuses did not conduct straw polls.