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Little suspense, lots of hoopla for this weekend's Minnesota DFL convention in Duluth

There will be little suspense but plenty of hoopla for 1,200 delegates to the DFL party state convention this weekend at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Most of the action is set for Saturday afternoon, when the delegates will endorse candidates for the U.S. Senate, governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor.

However, those positions already are held by DFLers, and there’s no serious challenger to any of the incumbents.

That’s in sharp contrast to the Republican convention set for this weekend in Rochester, where nearly all of the top races are contested by two or more candidates, none of them incumbents.

“I shouldn’t say this, but I think the social gatherings will be the highlight,’’ quipped Kelli Latuska, Duluth Democratic-Farmer-Labor party chairwoman. “Seriously, it’s going to be good for everyone to get together. ... It’s the one time when the candidates show up and really listen to the party.”

About the only DFL intrigue will be who gets the nod for secretary of state between state Reps. Debra Hilstrom and Steve Simon, both from the Twin Cities suburbs. Their race so far has been quiet, said state DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin. Incumbent DFLer Mark Ritchie announced one year ago that he would not seek another term as secretary of state.

 “I think with those lower-ballot races, most of the delegates come in undecided, so it gets decided at the convention,” Martin said. “I’m not sure there is a frontrunner going in.”

Gov. Mark Dayton and his new running mate, Tina Flint Smith, will be nominated about 4 p.m. Saturday. And Sen. Al Franken will get his podium time about 5 p.m. State Auditor Rebecca Otto will be endorsed earlier in the afternoon, as will Attorney General Lori Swanson.

  The DFL also is expected to hold a tribute for outgoing Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth who opted not to run with Dayton again.

Franken is expected to be the darling of the convention and is working with a 3-to-1 campaign finance edge over all his potential Republican challengers combined. But the first-term freshman won’t take the election lightly after winning in 2008 by just 312 votes over Republican Norm Coleman — an election that required an eight-month recount and judicial review.

Alone on the convention’s Senate ballot Saturday, Franken won’t have to bend to the left to attract the party endorsement as he might in a multicandidate field. And that leaves his convention speech open to court the mainstream Minnesotan’s likely to decide the race.

“Sen. Franken is going tell the delegates the same thing he’ll tell Minnesotans throughout the campaign. He’ll talk about what he’s gotten done for Minnesota and the hard work he will continue to do if voters give him the opportunity to serve a second term,” Alexandra Fetissoff, Franken’s campaign spokesperson, told the News Tribune. “Ultimately, he’ll address how this campaign is a choice for Minnesota families between two different approaches to getting this country back on track.”   

Martin said that, despite the lack of heated battles for party endorsement, the state convention still is an important time to bring party activists together “to get them re-energized” heading into the November election.

It’s also a rare year in which DFLers expect no serious primary election challenges, a chance for the party candidate to heal any wounds and save money while Republicans battle among themselves in August party primaries.

With the DFL party in full charge of all aspects of state government for the past two years — the state House, Senate and governor’s office — the party expects to take criticism for any problems, and expect Republicans to lambast the slow startups for Minnesota Care and Obamacare at their convention. But Martin also wants to get full credit for all the good news in the state.

“We have a great message to tell. Our job now is to go out and tell it,’’ said Martin, noting lower unemployment, lower state taxes for middle-income residents, more state aid to reduce property taxes, a higher minimum wage, statewide all-day kindergarten, more money for early childhood education, a new law protecting women’s workplace earnings and a new law legalizing same sex marriage.

“We promised Minnesotans in 2010 we were going to build a better Minnesota, and that’s what we delivered,” Martin said.

Convention registration begins today. Delegates also will re-work their party platform and rules on Sunday.

Martin said the party’s biggest challenge will be to turn out voters in November.

While Democrats tend to show up in droves for presidential year elections, the falloff in non-presidential years can be crippling for the party’s candidates. DFLers have only to look back to 2010, when nationally many Democrats stayed home and several of their incumbents, including Eighth District U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, were defeated.

“I’m not worried about Republicans. I think they have a pretty weak field of candidates for both governor and Senate. But could we still lose these elections? Absolutely,’’ Martin said. “In mid-term elections our base tends to stay home more than their base, and we are working to change that.”

That includes a nearly year-long effort to reach out to occasional DFL voters and make sure they understand the issues at hand, and why the need to vote in November, Martin said, “so we can avoid what happened in some races in 2010.”


Value of GOP endorsement to be tested at Minnesota convention