Thousands of Republican Party faithful will be cloistered in Rochester's Mayo Civic Center over the next couple of days, debating who should face DFL Gov. Tim Walz in November.
Delegates at the GOP state convention will attempt to narrow a crowded gubernatorial field to one person and endorse candidates for other statewide offices, including attorney general and secretary of state. Democrats hold all of those positions, making their convention the following weekend — also in Rochester — a quieter affair, where a slate of elected officials are seeking re-election without any challengers from inside the DFL.
Midterm elections tend to favor the party that does not control the White House, and rising inflation and crime present additional challenges for Democrats. Republicans hope their candidates will emerge from the weekend poised to make a run at winning statewide races, something they have not been able to do since Tim Pawlenty was elected governor in 2006.
But the path to reach GOP endorsements on Friday and Saturday could be bumpy, and some candidates may choose to continue to the August primary even if they are not the delegates' top choice.
Here are some key things to know ahead of the Republican and DFL state conventions.
Who is seeking the endorsements?
At both conventions, candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor are hoping to win over delegates. Democrats are also planning to endorse a lieutenant governor, while that is not expected at the GOP convention. Some GOP gubernatorial candidates have not yet picked running mates.
Who endorses the candidates?
More than 2,200 delegates will battle over their favored candidates at the Republican convention, and thousands of alternates are ready to step in if needed. Democrats have about 1,300 delegates.
Party members selected these delegates during the local caucus and convention process earlier this year. They tend to be very politically engaged Minnesotans who are willing to give up their weekends to attend the conventions.
How does the endorsement process work?
Delegates vote on who they support, and a candidate must net 60% of the votes to win endorsement. If no one reaches that level in the first round of balloting, delegates continue with additional rounds. Candidates who do not meet certain thresholds are eliminated.
There has been recent consternation within the GOP about whether to use electronic balloting. Party Chairman David Hann has stressed that the electronic system planned for use is secure and accurate, but some delegates and candidates are pushing for paper ballots at the convention, as well as in state and national elections. Paper ballots would take far longer to count, which could create challenges as Republicans have a tight deadline to reach their endorsements.
Could delegates fail to endorse?
Yes. Some GOP party activists said if delegates choose paper ballots and there is a drawn-out endorsement fight they may need to work late into the night Friday and start early the following morning to get a gubernatorial endorsement Saturday.
Why do the conventions matter?
The party's stamp of approval brings more financial and staffing support, and it can boost a candidate's name recognition.
"Along with it comes the access to party resources," said Minnesota GOP Executive Director Mike Lonergan, adding, "This is an important way to give the activists, who are the backbone of our campaign team … a voice."
The delegates' decision is particularly important for GOP hopefuls. In primary races, Minnesota Republicans have historically stuck with their party's pick. Endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson won the Republican primary in 2018 over Pawlenty, who skipped the party process. The last time an unendorsed candidate won the GOP primary was then-incumbent Gov. Arne Carlson in 1994.
Democrats have been more successful in winning a primary without the endorsement, including Walz, who beat endorsed candidate Erin Murphy four years ago.
Will candidates abide by the endorsement?
It remains to be seen whether some Republican candidates will continue to run regardless of the party's decision. Many of the GOP candidates for governor have said they will abide by the endorsement, but some softened their comments as the convention approaches.
In the battle for attorney general, five GOP candidates hope to face off this fall against Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison. However, Republican Dennis Smith is not seeking his party's endorsement in that race and plans to run in the August primary. "It has become clear that the endorsing convention is a game for insiders," Smith said in a statement, adding that he also wants to reach out to independents and Democrats.
What else happens at political conventions?
Along with candidate endorsements, the parties consider resolutions that could become part of platforms. They also can amend their party's constitution and have guest speakers.
Are these the only endorsing conventions?
Minnesota has two other major political parties, the Legal Marijuana Now Party and Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party, as well as several minor political parties. A party needs to have a candidate net at least 5% of the vote in a statewide race to become a major party in Minnesota. Some parties are holding events to endorse people or having the party's executive board screen candidates.