About 2,200 Republican delegates gathered in St. Cloud today. Their main job is to endorse a candidate for U.S. Senate. They will also vote on Saturday to parcel out the remaining 13 delegates that will represent Minnesota at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
The morning's session got bogged down as delegates debated convention rules and how the convention will operate.
Some shouted "you're wrong" when Republican Party Chair Pat Shortridge announced that the party rules were mailed to every delegate. Others argued over the proper disclaimers on signs being raised on the convention floor.
Party officials are hoping that the U.S. Senate endorsement contest will start at noon.
There are five candidates vying for the party's endorsement but there are three that are getting the most attention.
State Rep. Kurt Bills, R-Rosemount, is the expected front-runner. Bills has the backing of presidential hopeful Ron Paul, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, and Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers. Bills is a high school economics teacher serving his first term in the state House.
Minnesota National Guard Army Captain Pete Hegseth is also running. Hegseth has garnered plenty of national support including Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He was also executive director for Vets for Freedom, which supported former President George W. Bush on the war in Iraq.
Former state Rep. Dan Severson is also running. Severson is also a military veteran and has the most election experience, running as the Republican nominee for Minnesota Secretary of State in 2010. He lost that race to Mark Ritchie.
Harold Shudlick and Bob Carney are also running.
The endorsement contest is expected to start around noon. A candidate needs to win 60 percent support to win the endorsement.
Some delegates are still weighing their options. Fred Wright of Moorhead said he's not sure who he'll support for the Senate nomination.
"I think we've got three very good conservative candidates right now," Wright said. "Politically, ideologically they're all good. So I think then it becomes a question of who's got the strongest committee, who's done the most leg work, who a lot of the delegates feel is the most electable. It's going to an interesting day."
Bills, Severson and Hegseth have all agreed to step aside if one of the others wins party backing.
As MPR's Mark Zdechlik reported this morning, Ron Paul and his backers are exhibiting some strength at the convention.
Paul has announced that he's no longer actively campaigning for the White House but is still seeking delegate support at state conventions. Paul is expected to address the convention tonight. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to win the presidential nomination.
Party leaders are hoping that any disputes between Paul supporters and Romney supporters is handled amicably. Arguments betwen factions at some other state party conventions resulted in shouts and fighting.
Shortridge started the convention by suggesting the group leave the convention unified and end "Republican on Republican violence."
Will be updated....
ST. CLOUD -The endorsement battle for U.S. Senate is underway at the Republican state convention.
State Rep. Kurt Bills, R-Rosemount, used the imagery of David vs. Goliath to showcase his race against DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"Politically the experts say Amy Klobuchar is unbeatable, she's a nice person, and have you tried her hotdish recipe?" Bills told the audience. "But we're not here to elect Miss Congeniality."
Bills said he was basing his campaign on five principles: economic freedom, incentives, competition, voluntary exchange and private property
Bills, a high school economics teacher at Rosemount High School, has emphasized lowering the federal deficit and "taming the tax code." He also said that there is a deficit of leadership in Washington D.C. Bills linked Klobuchar to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He called Klobuchar a "rubber stamp" for their agenda.
"These liberals have teamed up to give us years of trillion dollar budget deficits," Bills said. "The debt that Klobuchar and Obama has created are a giant we face."
Bills is relying on Ron Paul supporters who are exhibiting their strength at the convention. He has Paul's endorsement and that of more than 40 state lawmakers including Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers.
State Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, nominated Bills at the convention. He suggested Bills background as an economics teacher would help him win over swing voters.
"Let me show you the headline," Downey told the audience."Minnesota GOP endorses public school teacher for U.S. Senate."
You can listen to Bills' speech here: Listen
With MPR's Conrad Wilson
ST. CLOUD- Pete Hegseth, a former Army Captain, told GOP delegates today that he has the political experience to defeat DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar in November.
"It will take more than courage to win this race in November," Hegseth said. "It will take the right candidate."
Hegseth said his experience as executive director of the group Veterans for Freedom will help build a campaign that can defeat the popular incumbent.
"We don't run against Democrats to make a point, we run against Democrats to win and then to govern with Republican principles."
Hegseth said he helped Republicans win federal races when he took over Vets for Freedom which has 95,000 members and raised over $10 million. He also said he'll work to highlight Klobuchar's record.
"Many Minnesotans have a warm and fuzzy feeling about her, but they don't know how she votes," Hegseth said. "Do they know she has a more liberal voting record than DFL Rep. Keith Ellison?"
Hegseth said that he stood up to liberals during his time at Princeton University, as executive director of Veterans for Freedom and while serving in Afghanistan.
"As your candidate for U.S. Senate, I will be the consistent, courageous conservative that you deserve," Hegseth said. "Not because I say so but because I always have been."
Hegseth said one of his biggest priorities will be to reduce the size of the federal deficit.
Referring to the economy, Hegseth said it's not just Democrats that got "us into this mess." He blamed Republicans for talking like conservatives on the campaign trail and then voting like Democrats in Washington.
Here's Hegseth's speech: Listen(1 Comments)
With MPR's Conrad Wilson...
ST. CLOUD - Former Minnesota Rep. Dan "Doc" Severson took the stage in St. Cloud pushing a platform backed by "new American's and minorities." A former Navy pilot, Severson was the first Republican to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate a year ago.
"I'm the only one running with a proven track record," Severson said. "I'm the only candidate with name recognition and an effective state-wide ground game."
Severson also mentioned that he received 1 million votes in his 2010 campaign for Minnesota Secretary of State. He lost that bid to DFLer Mark Ritchie. Severson also mentioned that Republicans haven't won a statewide election since 2006. He said Republicans have to reach out to nonwhite voters in the Twin Cities.
"We need to reach out to conservative groups in the inner city," he said. "I'm the only candidate who has reached out those minority communities. And in fact I've spent the last two years forging relationships."
Severson said, if elected, he'll work to repeal the federal health care law, the Dodd/Frank financial regulation bill and push to audit the federal reserve.
Severson also said his fingerprints were on the two proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot. He was an author of the definition of marriage amendment when he served in the Minnesota House. He also pushed for requiring people to show photo identification to vote.
During a video presented to the delegates, Severson touted his work on the so-called photo ID amendment.
"In 2010, I fought for photo ID and narrowly lost that battle to a [George] Soros funded incumbent but we won the war," Severson said. "Photo ID will be on the ballot in November."
Listen to Severson's speech here: Listen
From MPR's Conrad Wilson...
Texas Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul spoke at the Republican state convention in St. Cloud today.
Paul affirmed his support for state Representative Kurt Bills, who earlier won the GOP's endorsement to take on US Sen. Amy Klobuchar in November.
Paul's support helped propel Bills to winning the endorsement. As he talked to delegates about his message of limited government, personal liberty and a less aggressive U.S. foreign policy, Paul also struck a chord of bi-partisanship.
"Whether liberals or conservatives or modest Republicans, come together and do the right thing. What don't we just all come together and all obey the Constitution," Paul said. "That would be a unique idea."
Four years ago Paul was not allowed to speak to the state Republican convention.
You can listen to Paul's speech here: Listen