Minnesota GOP seeks victory as convention opens in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — All eyes were on the gubernatorial race as Republicans in Minnesota gathered Friday to endorse a candidate to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Tim Walz in the November election.

Dr. Scott Jensen, vaccine skeptic and former state senator; former Senate Majority Leader Gazelka; and outsider Kendall Qualls were among the top contenders heading into the convention, where the 2,200 delegates must finish work by the 6 p.m. Saturday deadline to leave the Rochester Mayo Civic Center.

All gubernatorial candidates at the convention have pledged to honor party endorsement and waive the right to run in the Aug. 9 GOP primary, assuming there is no deadlock. . While there was plenty of merchandise for sale in the lobby declaring loyalty to Donald Trump, the former president didn’t back anyone in the Minnesota races.

Also on the convention agenda were contested races for endorsements to face off against Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon. Delegates made their first endorsement on Friday when they backed Ryan Wilson, who faced no opposition in his bid to take on state auditor Julie Blaha. Delegates and party leaders are hoping that at least one of their candidates will become the first Republican elected to a statewide office since Governor Tim Pawlenty was re-elected in 2006.

Delegates fell out when they agreed to use electronic voting after state chairman David Hann warned that using paper ballots, as some delegates had advocated for security , would delay the process and run the risk of the convention running out of time and failing without approving a full slate of candidates.

The convention was due to turn to the governor’s race on Saturday. Jensen was expected to lead on the first ballot, but it takes 60% of delegates to win approval. Chaska’s family doctor started the earliest and raised the most money. He has built a national following on social media by portraying his skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine — and his opposition to mask mandates and school and business closures — as support for medical freedom.


Among other leaders, Gazelka, a state senator from East Gull Lake, has focused on law and order following the sometimes violent unrest and spike in crime following the killing by the police of George Floyd in 2020. Qualls, who is black, highlighted his rise from poverty to success and his status as an outsider. It raised nearly $468,000 in the first three months of the year, the highest take in the first quarter for any candidate. Former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, dermatologist Neil Shah and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy are also seeking endorsement.

In Friday’s contested first race, Kim Crockett won approval for the post of Secretary of State after Kelly Jahner-Byrne dropped out after the second ballot.

Friday night was scheduled to run for attorney general, an office Minnesota Republicans haven’t won since 1968. Former lawmaker Doug Wardlow, who is making his second run for the job after losing to Ellison by less than 4 percentage points in 2018, is general counsel at MyPillow. It worked the crowd with its CEO, Mike Lindell, who gained national notoriety for perpetuating the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election.

Former Washington County judge, former Hennepin County commissioner and former lawmaker Tad Jude were also looking to become the best lawyer in the state; business attorney Jim Schultz, former lawmaker Dennis Smith and Second Amendment lawyer Lynne Torgerson.

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