MANKATO, Minn. -- Republicans in southern Minnesota on Saturday endorsed state Rep. Randy Demmer to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in November, opting for a candidate who campaigned on mainstream electability over challengers who courted tea party activists and promised conservative purity.
Demmer, a four-term state representative and business owner from Hayfield, a town southwest of Rochester, vowed to paint Walz as too liberal for his southern Minnesota district.
"We know Tim Walz is working with Nancy Pelosi," Demmer said. "He's right there doing everything she beckons him to do."
Demmer beat back a challenge from longtime conservative activist Allen Quist and two other contenders, who couched their bids in even more heated rhetoric.
Quist, a former state representative and two-time gubernatorial candidate from St. Peter, charged that Pelosi and President Barack Obama "are deliberately dismantling every major positive feature of the United States of America." Another candidate, National Guard veteran Jim Engstrand of Pine Island, promised to "destroy" Walz -- "not just beat him, destroy him."
Demmer, 53, took eight ballots over about five hours at the convention held at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Quist, Engstrand and the fourth candidate, Jim Hagedorn of Blue Earth, a lobbyist and son of a former congressman, all pledged to abide by the party endorsement and not run in the August primary.
Independence Party candidate Steven Wilson is also in the race.
Some delegates worried Demmer isn't conservative enough.
"Randy is closer to the establishment," said Charles Mills, a retired computer technician from Austin who was supporting Quist. "I think people like Quist and Engstrand want to go to Washington and really shake things up."
But Abby Bradford, an art director from Mantorville, said she was supporting Demmer because he was thinking about more than just pleasing the conservative base.
"On a couple issues he's more moderate, but on the same token he's the candidate who can do the best in November," Bradford said. "He's looking to the wider constituency out there, which is something we have to keep in mind."
Demmer made that pitch in several speeches to delegates.
"For our sake and for America's sake, 1st District Republicans must get behind a candidate that can win in November," Demmer said. At the same time, he portrayed himself as a strong conservative who believes in "limited government, personal responsibility, the sanctity of life and devotion to our values."
Minnesota Democrats said Demmer's appeals to the mainstream conceal a non-mainstream agenda.
"As a state legislator, Mr. Demmer regularly pandered to the far right instead of working for the needs of his constituents," state Democratic chairman Brian Melendez said in a statement.
Walz, of Mankato, was elected to Congress in 2006 when he defeated longtime Republican congressman Gil Gutknecht. Minnesota's 1st District reaches across southern Minnesota from Wisconsin to the South Dakota border, and includes the cities of Rochester, Mankato and Winona as well as dozens of small towns and large rural portions.
Having switched from Republican to Democrat four years ago, it's the type of district the GOP is aiming to recapture. But Walz enjoys a massive fundraising advantage so far, starting April with almost $600,000 in the bank compared to about $19,000 for Demmer.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)