Bruised, but unified, Republicans offer Pawlenty

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 15, 2002

ST. PAUL &045; In their choice of governor, Republicans sided with experience over expenses; with a fresh mouth over a fresh face; with a lawmaker over a business maker.

Tim Pawlenty of Eagan won a bruising endorsement battle Saturday morning, one in which both his campaign and that of entrepreneur Brian Sullivan repeatedly violated Ronald Reagan’s so-called 11th commandment &045; that Republicans should never speak ill of each other.

In the end, though, Sullivan conceded with a gracious speech and delegates pledged unity in their quest to retake the governor’s office.

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&uot;The perception will be that he won’t be radically left as (Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Roger Moe is and he won’t be radically right,&uot; House Speaker Steve Sviggum said of Pawlenty’s upstart general election campaign.

Sviggum worked to turn delegates to Pawlenty after arriving at the Xcel Energy Center early Friday evening fresh from a trip to Norway. &uot;He will be conservative, yes, but he will also be balanced,&uot; he said.

“It was a long process, but was exciting,” Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea said after going through 13 ballots in the long running election, which lasted until 3 a.m. Saturday morning.

“I am proud to have supported my colleague and my friend. I think he is going to make a tremendous leader. And I am looking forward to having him as a governor.”

A majority of the 12 delegates from Freeborn County, including Dorman and Sen. Grace Schwab, R-Albert Lea, voted for Pawlenty.

Pawlenty and Sullivan agreed to abide by the election result and will not contest the endorsement in the primary.

“It was fairly respectful campaign,” said Dorman. And he thinks the party will soon restore its unity for the November election.

At midnight, after the ninth ballot, the candidates remained deadlocked and one delegate pushed for a motion that they choose their candidate by picking a name out of a hat.

And many talked seriously about sending the choice to a primary, where GOP voters statewide would pick the candidate.

Now, if Gov. Jesse Ventura opts to seek a second term, he will run essentially against the Legislature &045; Moe, a majority leader for two decades, and Pawlenty, the House’s second-in-command.

As the GOP was making its choice, Ventura, on a trade mission in China, said Pawlenty would be the tougher opponent.

That statement quickly became fodder in a letter to delegates, in which Sullivan urged them not to be manipulated by Ventura’s &uot;dirty trick.&uot;

It was just one many pieces of paper that littered the arena floor by convention’s end. Those papers touched on each of the men’s perceived weaknesses. Sullivan struck first &045; and hardest &045; in letters attacking Pawlenty for a decade-old vote to extend human rights protection to homosexuals. Pawlenty answered that he’d since voted consistently against such measures.

Sullivan also attacked Pawlenty for making deals with the DFL as majority leader, and for basing his floor strategy on 50 lawmakers &045; &uot;kingmakers&uot; according to Sullivan &045; who were using strong-arm tactics to win votes.

Indeed, Pawlenty aides acknowledged those lawmakers were key to his win. Each were charged with turning two or three votes.

But Pawlenty made progress on each ballot after narrowly losing the first, until both men were allowed to make speeches after the fifth. Then Sullivan gained for several rounds of ballots, never again leading but coming within 10 votes once. Eventually, as yawns began to replace yells, Pawlenty began to surge and Sullivan conceded after Pawlenty reached 58 percent on the 12th ballot. Sixty percent was required to win.

Pawlenty’s strongest attack was that Sullivan couldn’t make progress despite spending more than $2 million &045; most of it his own &045; on the endorsement campaign.

&uot;They always had a strategy of forcing Tim to drop out before they got here,&uot; said David Strom of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota about Sullivan’s campaign. &uot;They didn’t have a Plan B.&uot;

Much of the battle seemed as much about class as anything. To many of Pawlenty’s supporters, it was a test of whether country club Republicans or grass-roots activists run the party.

Pawlenty, the son of a truck driver, repeatedly stressed his working-class roots while Sullivan worked to downplay his own life of privilege. He noted that he came to Minnesota with a &uot;few thousand bucks&uot; in his pocket and built a multimillion dollar water-filtering business.

Pawlenty’s victory punctuated a long climb from where he stood 14 months ago. On the eve of a planned announcement to run for U.S. Senate, he received a call from Vice President Dick Cheney, asking him not to challenge Norm Coleman.

On Saturday, Coleman touched on that decision.

&uot;Not too long ago, I said Tim Pawlenty was the brightest star on the horizon of the Republican Party,&uot; Coleman said. &uot;Right now, he’s no longer on the horizon. He’s right in the center of its universe and that’s a great thing for Minnesota.&uot;

In a news conference Saturday morning, Pawlenty kicked off his campaign talking about issues that seemed plucked straight from the &uot;can-do list&uot; that Sullivan distributed to thousands of households.

On the budget, he said he’d solve any budget deficit without raising taxes.

On education, he said he’d rid the state of the Profile of Learning standards and make teachers accountable for results in their classrooms.

On transportation, he said his running mate, Carol Molnau, who as a state representative led a transportation committee, would be a &uot;one-woman SWAT team&uot; watching over the Department of Transportation.

But he also said he’d push one of his own long-held ideas &045; to establish tax-free zones in struggling areas of the state.


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Patrick Howe may be reached at phowe(at)