After a slow start, Republicans begin making endorsements

Newcomer endorsed for attorney general

By: - May 14, 2022 10:45 am

Attorney Kim Crockett was endorsed for secretary of state on Friday at the state Republican convention in Rochester. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.

After a shaky start — long lines that led to a delayed start followed by a battle over whether to use paper ballots rather than an electronic voting system — Minnesota Republicans got down to business Friday and began their state convention.

Videos of riots and burning buildings in the Twin Cities, Democratic Rep. John Thompson hollering at protests and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar just… talking played on huge video screens to inspire the crowd as candidates sold themselves as the panacea to wokeness, rising crime and pandemic lockdowns at the convention in Rochester.

Kim Crockett was endorsed for secretary of state, newcomer Jim Schultz for attorney general and Ryan Wilson (unopposed) for state auditor.

Here are our takeaways from day one: 

Crockett does NOT like the media, or absentee voting

The Reformer tried to ask secretary of state candidate Kim Crockett questions twice Friday. The first time, she said she wouldn’t be taking questions until after her speech — and maybe not then either. Then she snubbed the Reformer again when approached her after she won the endorsement.

She also refused to do a “scrum” with reporters despite a GOP PR person’s request.

It’s clear she intends to ignore the mainstream media during her campaign. During her convention speech, she painted herself as a victim of “the corporate media” and cancel culture, saying she’s been repeatedly attacked by the media.

She will, however, apparently do YouTube interviews with her campaign consultant. In this one, she brags about how she’s taking on the media and staring them down like the bullies they are.

However, she said, “I am called in the face of a storm.”

That’s Christian-speak for “God called me to run for office.”

As the Republican Party and Christian right continue to meld, several candidates talked about their religious bona fides and how they were called to run. Crockett invoked the more spiritual third of the holy trinity, saying, “My campaign has been filled with the holy spirit since day one.” 

Crockett began her convention speech by saying Republicans “won that fight” against “the party of slavery and tyranny” and asked delegates if they were ready to do it again.

She accused Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon of using the pandemic to change how people voted and votes were counted in 2020 (changes that were designed to make it easier to vote during a pandemic and upheld by a judge). 

Crockett said Minnesotans need to return to voting in person and reject “the insecure, chaotic absentee balloting system and vulnerable wireless equipment connected to the internet” and root out the “partisan election process” Simon has built.

Crockett has voted by absentee ballot in every state general election since the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting, according to elections system consultant Max Hailperin. 

“My goal is to restore everyone’s confidence in elections by making it easy to vote but really hard to cheat,” she said.

She was endorsed over businesswoman Kelly Jahner-Byrne.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell takes a selfie with a fan as Doug Wardlow stands by at the state Republican convention in Rochester Friday. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.

Mike Lindell still selling election conspiracy theories

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell drew crowds of adoring fans as he made his way into the convention hall with attorney general candidate (and one of Lindell’s attorneys) Doug Wardlow, posing for selfies, sometimes even while candidates onstage gave speeches.  

When the Reformer and an Axios reporter started asking Lindell questions in the arena hallway, he began loudly talking about how he loves talking to the “horrible, horrible, horrible media.” (He does this schtick on occasion.)

Hann accuses group of spreading lies to raise money

Party chair David Hann said heading into the convention, “an organization” spread a lie that the party was going to use Dominion voting machines at the convention.

This appears to be a reference to Action 4 Liberty, a fringe group that recently accused the party of planning to use “Dominion-like” voting equipment.

In an apparent attempt to raise money and push for paper ballots, Hann said the unnamed group did this knowing it would be impossible to finish before the convention’s deadline of 6 p.m. Saturday.

“This organization isn’t interested in helping the party become the governing party,” Hann said onstage.

Action 4 Liberty called that “an extremely odd allegation because the calls are being made from the conservative base; a hung convention is to the benefit of insider candidates like Kendall Qualls and Paul Gazelka.”

Lots of newcomers

Republicans tested their controversial electronic voting “clickers” with a quick survey of how many attendees were first-timers.

A whopping 55% said they were attending their first convention.

Travis Liffrig, an alternate from Wabasha, was among many people who reluctantly agreed to use the clickers, saying he thinks it’s hypocritical for the party to use electronics because “they don’t want it in November.” He also doesn’t trust that electronic systems won’t get hacked.

What does it mean that so many delegates are first-timers? Is one candidate or another responsible for organizing them? We’ll know in a few hours. 

Schultz makes a comeback

AG candidate Wardlow played videos of Minneapolis riots and promised to “make Minnesota safe again” and “end critical race theory” to big applause.

But maybe he should’ve put Lindell on the stage.

Attorney general candidate Jim Schultz won the endorsement Friday at the state Republican convention Friday. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.

In his first run for public office, in the third round of ballots, Jim Schultz talked about how his sister’s house got shot up in north Minneapolis. (She’s OK.)

“It is fundamentally immoral to have an attorney general back defunding the police while our men and women, boys and girls are shot dead in the streets of our cities,” he said. “It is an outrage and a disgrace.” 

Attorney General Keith Ellison backed a Minneapolis ballot initiative to replace the police department with a department of public safety, but would not defund police.

In the fourth round, Wardlow said Schultz worked for a hedge fund and has “never really been in a courtroom.”

Schultz countered that he spent a couple years in seminary at the University of St. Thomas and is a follower of Jesus Christ who felt called to run.

Schultz won the endorsement after retired judge Tad Jude conceded and threw his support behind him.

He’s a native of South Haven (population 186), is an Eagle Scout, went to Harvard Law School, worked at the Pentagon and has worked for pro-life groups. His law firm helps Minnesota companies “navigate the worst regulatory environment in the country.”

The big prize

Today Republicans will attempt to endorse a candidate for governor, and the conventional wisdom is that former state Sen. Scott Jensen and former congressional candidate Kendall Qualls will be in the top spots on the first ballot.

Will the delegates go with the vaccine-skeptic and doctor who rose to prominence with his unconventional views on the pandemic? Or a Black Army veteran who grew up in the housing projects of Harlem who says two-parent homes are a solution to racial inequities and has railed against schools teaching “critical race theory,” a term often erroneously used as a catch-all for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Will years in the halls of power at the state Capitol, deep roots in the religious right and an endorsement from the police propel former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka? 

And where do former candidate Michelle Benson’s people go? How much support will Action 4 Liberty favorite Mike Murphy get? Where will his supporters go if he doesn’t have enough? Will anybody get endorsed?

We’ll know soon.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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