Could Cleveland be a stop in 2018 Minn. governor’s race?

Published 9:48 am Thursday, July 21, 2016

By Brian Bakst FM

Cleveland — This is Chris Tiedeman’s fifth Republican convention, so he’s seen plenty of future statewide candidates blended into the delegations. Stepping outside a recent Minnesota gathering in Cleveland, Tiedeman said that’s likely the case this time, too.

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The Minnesota contingent here is a mix of party regulars and motivated newcomers. There are also some up-and-coming Minnesota politicians getting loads of face time with the Republican activists likely to be involved in selecting future nominees for governor and other offices. The 2018 campaign is approaching fast.

Tiedeman wouldn’t name names but said “there’s probably a handful” here with statewide ambitions. “This is a good place to be if you are thinking about running for governor.”

Those inside the room included Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, 2010 gubernatorial nominee and current U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, state Rep. Matt Dean and state Republican Party Chair Keith Downey.

If they are interested in running for governor, they’re not talking publicly about it yet. It’s a delicate dance at this stage because no one wants to be seen as looking beyond the election in front of them.

But the courtship for 2018 is already quietly underway, said delegate Becky Hall of Duluth.

“These delegates and alternates and their guests are probably the most-active folks in GOP politics back in Minnesota,” she said. “So they go back to their districts and they say, ‘Oh, I’ve had a conversation with this person, that person,’ and the word just kind of spreads about who they are and what they stand for. It’s smart to come here and develop those relationships with these activists.”

Daudt and Emmer are keeping busy schedules at the convention. They’ve spent time mingling with Minnesota delegates and have networked at events featuring leaders from other states.

Daudt turned aside a chance to declare himself a candidate for governor. “”After the next election we’re going to have to focus on governing,” he said. “So I’m not sure I’m going to probably even think about it real soon, but thank you for the question.”

Downey, a former legislator from Edina, deflected the question, too. “We’re very intentionally on all fronts thinking only about November 2016,” he said. “We have one mission: That is to hold the Minnesota House, regain a majority in the Minnesota Senate and advance our congressional delegation from Minnesota.”

Dean, a Dellwood legislator and former House majority leader, is attending the convention as a guest of his wife, Laura, a delegate. Like Daudt, he said his focus is on maintaining a Republican House majority that is a check on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

But he won’t dispute giving at least some thought to a 2018 statewide run.

“Very clearly,” he said, “the state is not headed in the right direction right now with the leadership we currently have.”

In Minnesota, Dean is aiming to travel and assist GOP candidates in at least two legislative districts a week, one in the suburbs and one farther from home. It’s the type of groundwork that can pay off later.

There’s no doubt personal relationships forged at the convention can pay off.

Tim Pawlenty made the rounds during the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia. A state legislator at the time, he would run for Minnesota governor in 2002 and win. Pawlenty’s 2006 re-election is the last time a Republican has won a statewide race.

In 2000, Republican Norm Coleman was two years removed from a defeat in a Minnesota governor’s election when he came to the party’s presidential convention in Philadelphia and disclosed he had formed an exploratory committee for a second run.