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Benson and Weaver the Winners In Republican Convention Straw Polls
By Karen Louise Boothe
September 22, 1997

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State Republican delegates gathered for their state convention in Bemidji over the weekend of September 20. Their straw polls on candidates for governor and attorney general resulted in a surprise upset by one candidate, and a predictable victory for another.

Lieutenant Governor Joanne Benson beat former State Representative Allen Quist in the straw poll for gubernatorial candidates. Benson garnered 37 percent of the votes compared with Quist's 30 percent. Benson says the results should discourage others, such as St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, from entering the field. She also believes she's the most electable.

Benson: Ever since I've been in politics, when people have needed an urban vote or rural vote, or someone's campaign has needed fundraising, they came to me. When they needed people to be brought together they came to me. This is electability. When you can bring people together, that's electability. I can help the ticket in the same way.
In the days leading to the convention, Alan Quist seemed to be the favored candidate. The social conservative has enjoyed an appeal with many party loyalists and the convention itself was conducted in a region of the state that's been one of his strongholds. But many delegates had 1994 in mind when it finally came time to vote; Quist gained overwhelming support to win the party's nomination then, but lost in a landslide to Arne Carlson in the state primary. His message clearly resonated with conservatives, but turned off a majority of the state's Republican voters.

State Party Chairman Bill Cooper says the straw poll indicates many delegates learned a lesson from the '94 experience.

Cooper: I think that was a factor in the vote. To some degree there's some switch between the delegates based not on their favorite, but on who can win.
On Saturday, Quist's message didn't change, but delegate's votes did. Many said they support Quist ideologically, but he's not, in their minds, the party's most electable candidate, as Joanne Benson and others alluded to in speeches to the convention. Quist isn't discouraged by the results.
Quist: And we, of course, would have liked to have won. We think it's a race between two people and we obviously have a ways to go, but we think we can do that.
Though Quist sees the results as a race between himself and Benson, others disagree. Straw polls in an off-year are hardly definitive, especially when the field isn't thought to be complete. Party Chairman Bill Cooper believes the race remains wide open. State Representative Tim Pawlenty of Eagan won 17 percent of the votes. Better than he, or anyone, expected. State Senator Roy Terwilliger won 6 percent, and businessman Dick Borrell of Waverly picked up 3 percent of the votes. But there were still some undecided, begging the question over the so-called "Norm Coleman Factor." The St. Paul mayor is leaving the question unanswered. Republican political analyst Tom Horner says Coleman really has no other choice but to remain uncommitted to the race at this time:
Horner: The fact is, he is running for mayor, and he has to remain focused on running that race. And the last thing he needs to do is give any ammunition to his opponent in the mayoral race, Sandy Pappas, that he's doing anything other than running for mayor.
Horner says in the next year, Republican party activists and their candidates need to demonstrate their agenda is mainstream and appealing to most Republican voters. A task that, despite Benson's weekend win, won't always be easy. The weekend convention was still tailored to a vastly socially conservative crowd. Campaign rhetoric was peppered with anti-gay, anti-media, and anti-abortion messages. And the Christian Coalition's new national director, Randy Tate, told a breakfast crowd that one of the biggest issues faced in America today is a declining culture of decadence and immorality. He called on members to move their political will from "the pews, to the precincts to the polls."
Tate: We want to ensure that people of faith step up to their civic responsibility to be registered, educated, and then go to the polls and have an impact. You know, we at the Christian Coalition don't tell people how to vote, but we do encourage them to let their voice be heard.
The weekend's convention business also included a straw poll for attorney general. State Representative Charlie Weaver won handily, with 58 percent of the vote. Hamline law professor and former Quist running-mate, Doug McFarland, captured 29 percent of the vote. (John Graham won 7 percent, and 5 percent were undecided.)

Delegates also voted, overwhelmingly, in support of a resolution against an expansion of gambling in the state and the use of revenues to fund a new Twins stadium.

The Party's nomination convention is scheduled for next June in Minneapolis.

Pre-Convention Report