Students attend GOP convention in record numbers

by Tom Ford

The next generation of Minnesota Republicans achieved an unprecedented presence at the party’s state convention last weekend.

Of the more than 2,200 delegates and alternates who chose House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty as the party’s gubernatorial candidate, approximately 50 were college-age students, said Minnesota College Republicans Chairman Michael Krueger.

“No one can remember so many students at a convention,” Krueger said.

Krueger, a Bethel College senior, said the convention turnout stems from an effort begun last winter to attract 100 students to the March precinct caucuses.

He said they surpassed that goal, with statewide caucus attendance composed of approximately 150 College Republicans.

The students elected to attend the convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul were treated to a marathon day Friday, when the gubernatorial endorsement process lasted 16 hours and stretched into Saturday.

After 12 ballots, neither candidate had won the 60 percent needed for nomination. But early Saturday morning, Pawlenty pulled ahead by 236 votes. By 2:45 a.m, Orono businessman Brian Sullivan had conceded, thrown his support behind Pawlenty and urged fellow Republicans to do the same.

“Competition is good. A good man won. And I will give him every ounce of support I have,” Sullivan said.

Pawlenty said he would open his arms to Sullivan and his supporters to bring unity to the party and reach the “real goal.”

“We’ll win this thing in November, and we’ll have a Republican decade in this state,” he said.

A nine-year veteran of battles at the Legislature, Pawlenty said he has the experience “in the trenches” and pledged to continue fighting his DFL opponents.

Reflecting the Republican
delegation as a whole, the college contingent was divided in support for the two nominees.

Elden Arosch, a convention alternate and third-year student at the University’s Duluth campus, said he wouldn’t vote for Sullivan even if he had received the endorsement.

Arosch said Sullivan’s stances on matters such as abortion veer too far to the right, and, as a more moderate candidate, Pawlenty could bring opposing parties together. Pawlenty also opposes abortion rights.

Tyler Richter, a University junior, said Pawlenty earned the endorsement through his leadership and service as a legislator.

“It seems to me Brian thinks he deserves the endorsement because he bought it,” Richter said.

But to help ensure a Republican would take over the governor’s mansion, Richter said, he was prepared to support Sullivan had he won.

Eric Hoplin, executive director of the College Republican National Committee and recent St. Olaf College graduate, said Sullivan’s status as a political outsider gave him a better chance to unseat Gov. Jesse Ventura.

While Hoplin carried a campaign sign around the floor and led the cheers for Sullivan throughout the day, he said he kept a Pawlenty button in his pocket that he would wear if Pawlenty were endorsed.

Pawlenty now moves on to face DFL-endorsed Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel in the November general election.

The central remaining question in the governor’s contest is whether Ventura will run again for office.

Jack Uldrich, chairman of the state’s Independence Party, said he expects Ventura to declare his decision late this week.


Coleman: the president’s choice

Amid the roaring approval of delegates, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman on Thursday night accepted the endorsement in his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone.

“The bottom line, folks, I want to be Minnesota’s mayor in Washington,” Coleman told delegates.

Touting his successes in eight years at the helm of St. Paul – which include the construction of the Xcel Energy Center and the return of an NHL team – Coleman said it’s time for results rather than passion from a Minnesota senator.

Wellstone has said he has been an effective legislator whose idealism is an asset.

Prior to Coleman’s address, President George W. Bush offered his support in a videotaped message shown to delegates.

“I wanted to speak to the grass roots of the Minnesota Republican Party,” Bush said. “For too long, Minnesota was written off by one party and taken for granted by the other. But no more.”

As early as last year, Bush and the White House identified Coleman as the candidate with the best chance to defeat Wellstone and help establish Republican control of the U.S. Senate.

Bush has attended several Coleman fund-raising events in Minnesota, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for the campaign. Convention leaders announced Bush will visit the state again in July and will be the featured draw at a Target Center rally for Coleman and other candidates.

Larry Jacobs, a University political science professor, said besides the clear financial advantages, Bush’s support allows Coleman to ride the crest of the president’s approval rating and spared him from facing a challenge for the Republican endorsement. Pawlenty had considered running for Senate but stepped aside at the White House’s request.

But Jacobs said Coleman must also deal with potential pitfalls.

“The president has taken positions that are not as popular (in Minnesota),” Jacobs said.

This puts Coleman in a squeeze, he said, and might force him to both embrace and turn away from Bush.

“He wants to give the president a tight bear hug, but he doesn’t want to simply take on the persona of Bush,” Jacobs said.

Other endorsed candidates included Rep. Carol Molnau, R-Chaska, for lieutenant governor, incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer for secretary of state, Medina attorney Tom Kelly for attorney general and Eagan Mayor Pat Awada for state auditor.

Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]