DULUTH, MINN. -- The people who want to be our next governor have been slugging it out all day here at the Democrat Farmer Labor party's 2010 convention in the port city on Lake Superior.
It's raining outside on this Saturday April 24th, 2010. But inside the convention hall we're hearing a lot about a drought. Make that a really long drought.
They're talking about that long span of 24 years since Minnesotans went to the polls and elected a DFL governor. For some reason people in the Star of the North don't vote Republican in presidential elections, but do swing that way for the state's chief executive.
How long ago is 24 years? On November 4th, 1986 the number one song in the United States, on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, was "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper. That's the day the late Gov. Rudy Perpich, the quintessential Iron Ranger, won reelection.
What I don't know is whether Perpich heard that song on the radio that day, and whether he would be inclined to sing along with Cyndi. I also can't tell you if Perpich realized at the time Minnesota's "true color" politically was shifting from blue to purple.
8:30 p.m. observations
As of 8:30 p.m., a good 12 hours into the Saturday endorsement process, Liberal firebrand Tom Rukavina had just withdrawn and threw his support behind House Speaker Margaret Kelliher, who has led on the first four ballots here.
Rukavina scores points for the best rhetorical flourishes of the day. He opined, for example, that "We know the hardest job in the circus is cleaning up after the elephants" in reference to following eight years of GOP dominance in the governor's office.
Another Rukavina populist gem went as follows: "I'm not going to rub elbows in the corporate halls. I'm going to rub elbows in the union halls. I'm not going to walk a fine line, but I will walk a picket line when you need me!"
Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak has been second in the running so far, followed by Rep. Paul Thissen, the Minneapolis intellectual who has made health care reform a priority. It's unknown who he'll endorse if he exits the stage. If he goes with Rybak, and his supporters stay on cue, the night could be a long one.
Another much talked about factor this year is that a progressive group pf delegates flying the banner of ReNew Minnesota have talked about voting as one big block of 140, when the time comes to take a stand. Kelliher, Rybak and Thissen already won ReNew Minnesota's seal of approval, so we'll see how that plays out tonight.
The first to bow out earlier this evening was Sen. John Marty, the longtime champion of single payer universal health care, clean government and equality for GLBT citizens. He won the endorsement of this convention in 1994, and survived to primary only to be defeated soundly by Republican incumbent Arne Carlson.
The winner who emerges from the crowded field seeking the endorsement here in Duluth will move on to the August 10th primary, to face the Democrats who decided to take their race straight to the people -- or that percentage of the people who will turn out for the primary.
They are former US Senator Mark Dayton, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner and former Minnesota House Minority Leader Matt Entenza.
Electability will be at the top of DFL strategists' minds, and they'll have to weigh factors such as name recognition, geography, gender and charisma in addition to experience, knowledge, wisdom -- oh, and how people stand on issues and their legislative records.
Jesse Ventura taught the pundits what value voters place on personality, which is why one first-time delegate, Gina Johansen, told me she saw Tom Rukavina as totally electable. He's not afraid to say what he thinks, much like Ventura and the late Paul Wellstone.
Rukavina compared himself to Wellstone in his floor speeches. Here we were in Duluth, the place Wellstone was headed for a debate the day he died in a plane crash in 2002. I recalled that Wellstone was making a side trip to attend Rukavina's father's funeral at the time his plane went down on the approach to the Eveleth airport.
And, as another delegate pointed out to me, if people can't get emotional in front of a crowd of fellow Democrats how much passion will they show on the campaign trail when they're trying to woo independents and moderate Republicans?
9:30 p.m. observations
The infighting has begun on the floor here. Rybak supporter Jave Morillo from the Service Employees International Union tweeted a few minutes ago that the super delegates -- elected officials who are automatically delegates here -- are "hijacking" the endorsement battle.
Earlier in the day Shawn Towle, of the Checks and Balances E-zine, told me that he was the one responsible for lawmakers becoming delegates because he pushed that through as a delegate years ago.
Speaking of rules, one of the strange rituals of the convention game is that access to the floor is closed during ballots. As the time to start the voting again approaches the emcee announces that "the floor will be frozen" in so many minutes.
That not only means that media types are kept off the floor, and separated from the 1,300 delegates. It also means delegates themselves can't get back inside if they happen to away eating or using the restroom when the ropes go up and the freeze begins.
The folks policing this are volunteers, including the sargeants-at-arms, who stand under signs that read "Welcome Delegates" and tell them they can't go beyond that point and re-enter the convention floor.
Among those deputized to create temporary barriers to the convention floor is Rich Neumeister, a longtime citizen lobbyist at the state Capitol. In real life he drives a metro mobility bus, but at the state house he stands up for privacy and open government. It was almost ironic to see the man who is all about access and transparency put to use blocking access.
I ran into Franni Franken earlier in the stands, and she still remembered me from the 2008 Senate run. She's such a bundle of raw energy I can't imagine her ever actually settling down enough to sleep, but I'm sure she must.
How much delegates and reporters sleep on this night depends entirely on how things go in the trenches, as the slips of paper move up and down the line. At this moment I've got to jump back in our satellite truck and edit our 10pm video.
10:30 p.m. observations
We just interviewed Rep. Paul Thissen, who withdrew after the 5th ballot, leaving only Speaker Kelliher and Mayor Rybak in the hunt. Thissen did not endorse one or the other, but noted either way it's going to be a Minneapolis Democrat winning the endorsement. That's another reason that his odds of becoming a running mate to the eventual winner are slim -- two Minneapolis politicians do not a balanced ticket make.
Thissen said, as he did often on the stump, that Minnesota needs a leader who will make real changes to the way the state operates rather than "nibbling around the edges" of reform and problem solving.
As for what the DFL needs in a candidate, he said the public is yearning for someone who is authentic and can speak from the heart. Someone, as he said, who can "get beyond the walls of the State Capitol and into the places where people are living their lives."
After interviewing Thissen I met an optometrist from southern Minnesota who was wearing a Margaret for Governor shirt, but said it was the third label she'd been under tonight. She started in Sen. John Marty's camp, then switched to Paul Thissen's group and had just then arrived in the Kelliher group.
I ran into Mary Hanson, a professional photographer from South Minneapolis I've known for years. She informed me she's Kelliher's campaign photographer, and was responsible for the shots on Kelliher's iPhone App.
Mary said her daughter asked her who the last woman was to be elected governor of Minnesota. When Mary said that Kelliher would be the first if she wins, her daughter was shocked. She couldn't understand how Texas could have a female governor before Minnesota could.
Of course it wasn't all about gender, Mary said. Kelliher's personal profile and progressive views would make her an electable candidate regardless of her chromosomes.
11:00 p.m. observations
The 6th ballot never happened. There was a flurry of activity on the floor. Many of Rybak's supporters, including Mayor Chris Coleman of Saint Paul, began to huddle just outside the main arena. Peggy Flanagan, a Rybak fan who works for Wellstone Action, walked past with her eyes beginning to tear up a bit.
Rybak appeared from the back of the arena with his supporters beginning to draw in around him, forming a parade of sorts. The entire hall began applauding him, knowing that he was on the brink of bringing the night to an end without further votes.
On stage he called on Mark Dayton, Susan Gaertner and Matt Entenza to do the same thing he was doing, to drop from the race immediately rather than taking it to the primary. He said Democrats need to unite early around one candidate, because the stakes are too high in November to give Republicans a three-month head start.
Entenza will launch his TV ads on Tuesday, as part of his primary campaign launch. The DFL will begin running pro-Kelliher ads on Monday. Dayton is perceived as having plenty of money in the war chest, but he'll have to decide how much to spend on the August round.
In the end Kelliher was endorsed via a voice vote, an endorsement "by acclamation" as they put it in the parlance of conventioneering. There would be no final tally putting her over the magical 60 percent mark.
The veteran lawmaker, who grew up on the family farm in Mankato and then moved to the Twin Cities, thanked her supporters and her opponents for their hard work moving the cause forward.
"Are you ready to make some history? Are you ready to make history together?" asked Kelliher, who Saturday night became the first female gubernatorial candidate endorsed by a major party in Minnesota history.
As the words were leaving her mouth the Republican Party of Minnesota's message machine was cranking out a reaction statement, which arrived in our iPhones and Blackberries. Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb predicted that suburban voters will blame Kelliher for higher gasoline taxes and the sales tax for transit.
They were both part of the historic override of Tim Governor Pawlenty's veto of the 2007 transportation bill. The revenue generated by that bill has accelerated road construction and transit development, something candidate Kelliher believes voters will appreciate.
As I gathered up my gear and headed for the satellite truck, I came accross David Gilbert-Pederson. He's the Minneapolis teenager who had the distinction of being the youngest delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver when he was 17.
A Rybak backer, David now was Margaret stickers RT logos on his shirt. His eyes were red and watery. He clearly was rattled by Rybak's loss, and said he was not feeling hopeful about November.
I reminded him that he's young and has many battles left to fight in the world of grassroots politics. And, between you and me, I can't see him sitting this one out either.
Kelliher's campaign colors are red and white in a formerly blue state that bleeds purple.