Republican Brian Sullivan has officially entered the governor's race. The Orono businessman kicked off his campaign with the announcement of his running mate, state Sen. Kenric Scheevel. Sullivan has already been running ads and traveling the state for more than a year. He says he's the only Republican who can defeat Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Given Sullivan's already high profile in the race, the official announcement would've been anti-climactic were it not for the announcement that Scheevel would join the ticket.
Sullivan says he chose Scheevel because of the Preston farmer's knowledge of regulations and taxes. He says Scheevel brings geographic balance to the ticket.
"Greater Minnesota is 50 percent of our state, and many of our communities are struggling. And I thought it was critical to have somebody who could represent the interests and understand the needs of both the farming community and the small communities in general in Minnesota," Sullivan said.
Scheevel offered a folksier answer when asked why he wanted to team up with Sullivan. "My dad always said, 'If you're going to race, ride the fastest horse, the one that's going to win,'" he said.
Scheevel, 45, raises hogs and corn on his family farm. The former teacher and school board member has served in the Senate since 1994, and worked on education, energy and agriculture issues. Scheevel says he agrees with Sullivan's fiscally conservative agenda.
"My objective, and I think this matches very closely with our next governor, has been that we should prioritize our spending, do what we should do and do it well. And that means you focus on roads, you focus on jobs, and you focus on education," he said.
Many of Scheevel's legislative colleagues are supporting Sullivan's opponent for the Republican endorsement, House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty of Eagan. Scheevel faced a difficult decision about his legislative future, because a new redistricting map paired him with Republican Sen. Bob Kierlin of Winona.
Scheevel says he won't run for the Senate again, even if he and Sullivan don't get the Republican endorsement. Pawlenty says the choice of Scheevel points out some problems for the Sullivan campaign.
"Brian's only been in the state for a relatively short period of time, he has no connection to rural Minnesota and no public leadership experience, and so I think he's trying through this appointment of Sen. Scheevel to shore up some of those glaring weaknesses. This might help, but again, it's unfortunate that Kenric's not at the top of the ticket," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty's lieutenant governor candidate is state Rep. Carol Molnau of Cologne, a farmer who chairs the House Transportation Finance Committee. Pawlenty and Sullivan are engaged in a fierce battle for party endorsement, with Sullivan predicting he's ahead and Pawlenty saying the two are tied in the delegate count.
Republican activist Sarah Janacek, a co-editor of the newsletter Politics in Minnesota, says Sullivan's choice of Scheevel was a savvy - and timely - move.
"The Pawlenty campaign had expected to do very well in a straw poll at the 1st District convention tomorrow. Now plucking someone out of the 1st District's backyard to be a running mate is certainly going to help Brian Sullivan in that 1st Congressional District," she said."
Janacek says Scheevel is a well-respected lawmaker who adds legislative credibility to the Sullivan ticket.
Sullivan has never held political office. He says that makes him the strongest Republican to take on Gov. Ventura, if he decides to run again.
"The most successful candidates from our party have always been candidates who have come from another career, who come from outside of politics, and I think I just hope to continue in that tradition," Sullivan said.
The 40-year-old entrepreneur moved to Minnesota 16 years ago. Sullivan sold his water purification business to Proctor and Gamble for $265 million in 1999, and is co-chairman of the grocery delivery company SimonDelivers.com.
He's been running radio and television ads touting his "can-do" list for Minnesota - better schools, better roads and more jobs.
Gov. Ventura hasn't said whether he's running for re-election, and his spokesman says the governor is focusing on his work as governor, not worrying about what the gubernatorial candidates are saying.