MARSHALL - When Marty Seifert talks about starting the campaign to win the GOP gubernatorial nomination race, he's quick to remind people this isn't his "first time in the rodeo," and he's hoping lessons learned from his 2010 defeat will serve him well this time around.
Seifert announced his bid for the GOP nod in Marshall on Thursday morning, kicking off a 13-city tour he said will be completed by Tuesday. It's the start of a process he's more than familiar with.
"I think the people of Minnesota want to see a candidate as much as possible, which is why we're going to 13 cities," Seifert said in his opening remarks Thursday. "We'll be hustling around a lot, and my family and I are ready for it; this isn't our first time in the rodeo. We know what we're getting into."
What he's getting into is a rather crowded field, with five other Republicans looking for the same thing - the chance to run against and defeat Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and, in turn, put some political balance back in St. Paul.
"We have an all-DFL state government, and most Minnesotans don't like having one party controlling state government," he said. "There's no checks and balances right now. I think it's more important than ever that Republicans pick someone who can win the general election. I've visited with a lot of people who feel we need a mainstream conservative who can win, who can attract conservative Democrats. That's the key - people want a candidate who can win."
Seifert, 41, believes he is that candidate, despite his loss in the 2010 primary. That year, Tom Emmer, who was ultimately defeated by Dayton by fewer than 9,000 votes, carried a game-changing advantage in the metro area by focusing on the largest districts, and on the second ballot was able to pull away from Seifert, who eventually withdrew from the race.
Seifert, however, has recently expressed his confidence in his ability to improve his standing in that area as a rural candidate in 2014.
Seifert, a former Minority Leader and Majority Whip who spent 14 years in the House of Representatives, admitted he was outmaneuvered by the Emmer campaign in 2010, and that Emmer's strategy involved putting together a certain slate of delegates that was enough to push him over the top. He said Emmer's focus on the 12 biggest districts that had the most delegates overshadowed the fact that Seifert was the more popular choice that year with voters.
"It's not that I don't have broad support in the metro, I do," Seifert said. "Our strategy will be much different this time, and I believe we can pull off the trifecta of getting the endorsement, winning the primary and winning the general election. In 2010, it was more of a strategic issue than it was a popularity issue. We understand where the big delegate tiles are, and we need to work those over."
Unlike in 2010 when he was the first to throw his hat into the GOP ring, Seifert enters the race this year with five other contenders already well into campaign mode. However, he said he's not worried about playing catch-up to the other candidates when it comes to campaigning and fundraising.
"I was the first candidate in the race in 2010, and that didn't work out all that well," he joked. "Hopefully this time it will turn out better."
Seifert recently told the Independent he was encouraged by an October straw poll taken at the Minnesota Republican party's state central committee in which, as a write-in candidate, he polled ahead of previously-declared candidates state Rep. Kurt Zellers (18 percent to 7.6 percent), Hibbing teacher Rob Farnsworth (6 percent) and businessman Scott Honour (4 percent). Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson came out on top among the 409 delegates who cast votes with 35 percent, followed by Sen. Dave Thompson at 27 percent.
Seifert said not being a current legislator will work as more of an asset to his campaign than a liability and that he has a good blend of public and private sector experience. During his time in the private sector, he has been working as the executive director of the Avera Marshall Foundation and helped spearhead the Building Hope Campaign to raise money for Avera's new cancer institute. Seifert will now take on a part-time role with Avera and will be phased out of his role at the hospital in December, he said.
Republicans will meet at their state convention in May to consider endorsing a candidate who will likely face an August primary challenge.