By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
The record-setting, exhausting, ultimately fruitless Republican congressional endorsement battle between state Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca and former state Rep. Allen Quist of St. Peter ended just before 2 a.m. Sunday with a television-drama tag-line: To be continued ... .
Hundreds of Republican activists from across southern Minnesota had already spent 14 hours and cast 23 rounds of ballots in their unsuccessful effort to coalesce around a candidate to run against Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato.
Needing to vacate the Kato Ballroom at 2 a.m. under city ordinance and with neither Quist nor Parry within reach of the 60 percent support required for endorsement, a majority of the remaining delegates decided to take another crack at it next month.
The vote wasn’t unanimous.
“We have proven the definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting a different result,” one delegate said in opposing the motion to hold a second convention.
But by a 131-108 vote, the delegates remaining — down from 282 when Saturday’s convention convened more than 17 hours earlier — voted to adjourn but to instruct 1st District Republican leaders to call another convention to finalize the endorsement “in two to three weeks.”
Newly-elected 1st District Republican Chairman Dave Kruse of Mankato said there’s virtually no chance that party leaders will decide a second convention is pointless.
“It’s sort of our job to enact the will of our delegates,” Kruse said. “That’s our overall objective, and we’ll do what we have to do. ... Our delegates are king.”
Kruse said the motion passed at the end of this weekend’s convention mandates that the announcement of the time and place of the new convention be made in “two to three weeks,” not the convention itself. But with the candidate filing deadline in June, it’s almost certain the second endorsing convention will be sometime in May.
As the exhausted activists headed for the doors of the Kato, the candidates said they were eager to continue the endorsement battle despite sometimes harsh criticisms hurled back and forth during the historic 23-ballot marathon. And both Quist and Parry expressed confidence they could do in May what they couldn’t do on Saturday — persuade 60 percent of delegates to support them.
Parry held the lead for the first 14 rounds of balloting but never surpassed the 54 percent of delegates that he captured on the very first ballot taken just after noon Saturday. During the next nine hours and 13 rounds of voting, he captured between 51 percent and 53 percent of the vote.
Quist took his first lead at about 9:45 p.m., picking up 51 percent on the 15th ballot, and held it over the final nine rounds of voting. Quist’s high-water mark — 55 percent on the 20th ballot — came just before midnight, but when the final ballot was announced at 1:42 a.m. the percentage of support had dropped to 52 percent.
So why will it be different in May?
Parry said several of his supporters were forced to leave the convention due to other scheduling commitments in the evening. At the second convention next month, he expects those delegates to be in place.
“Coming back, we’ll have one focus and that focus will be to elect that person who the majority believes can beat Tim Walz,” Parry said. “And I still believe that I’m the person who’s the electable candidate who can beat Tim Walz in November.”
Quist was also confident. The retired farmer recalled his first run for the state House in 1982 when the endorsement fight went a similar number of ballots and the delegates decided to recess the convention.
On the second day, Quist said he won the endorsement on the third ballot.
“Maybe history will repeat itself,” he said.
At the next convention, Quist should have one key ally back — one that was deserting him by the wee hours of Sunday morning.
“I’ll have my voice back,” he said hoarsely at about 2:15 a.m.
The mood in the historic ballroom underwent striking changes over the course of the 14-hour marathon. It was light but energized as the candidates made their opening speeches, both using cute-as-button granddaughters as visual aids in emphasizing their concern about how the federal debt will harm future generations.
Parry supporters seemed increasingly grim as his delegate lead shrunk to 142-140 by mid-afternoon. Then, after the Quist momentum stalled and Parry’s numbers climbed, Quist became much more aggressive in his attacks on Parry and the shouts and cheers from the delegates became noticeably more surly.
Quist portrayed Parry as wishy-washy on key issues like taxes and balancing the budget.
“It’s not going to be the mushy guy who’s going to win (in November),” he said. “It’s the consistent conservative who’s going to win.”
Shortly after 8 p.m., Quist brought up Parry’s overwhelming defeat when running for re-election to the Waseca City Council.
“He gets the booby prize for losing by the biggest margin,” Quist said.
But the energy level seemed to be dropping fast, and Parry — who stayed relentlessly on message (I’m the guy who can win in November) — got a tad bit goofy as he improvised in trying to fire up the crowd.
“This is so great!” he shouted. “I just had a sandwich! It was great! I’m ready!”
By 9:10 p.m., Quist made his attempt to recapture the delegates’ attention and it was a turning point in the night.
“I think it’s time to liven things up a little bit,” Quist said.
A former debate coach at Bethany Lutheran College, he challenged Parry to a “debate” where each would leave five questions on the podium for the other to answer when it was their time to speak.
Quist all but made chicken sounds in suggesting Parry was afraid to debate him and said one question — on the cap and trade energy bill — was on the list because “I don’t think Mike Parry has a clue what cap and trade is ... .”
Parry ignored the challenge, saying later that delegates had voted not to change the rules to allow a debate. But Quist supporters responded with boos and jeering comments.
And Parry answered a few minutes later with strong words of his own.
“What was displayed the last time I was up here was what I despise about politics,” he said, suggesting he was avoiding negative campaigning. “... We could go through all of (Quist’s) votes. We could talk about statements Quist has made about women. We could do all of that. But I’ve stayed away from that.”
Quist supporters shouted their disagreement about the cleanliness of Parry’s campaign.
“See, there you go again. There you go again,” Parry said. “Are we falling to the likes of the liberals and the DFLers that do the same thing?”
As midnight neared, Quist nearly used the L-word on Parry.
“He knows I’m a far-right conservative,” Quist said of Parry. “... He’s not on the far-right side. He’s in the center or on the left of the center.”
Peace in the valley
Not all the delegates, probably not even a majority, were involved in the shouting and jeering. In the Blue Earth County delegation, Quist-backer Carol Alishouse and Parry supporter John Hollerich had been sitting side-by-side for 13 hours and showed no sign of animosity.
They both said they just wanted to do their job and endorse a candidate.
“That’s why we’re here,” Alishouse said.
“We’ve got different opinions but we’re still Republicans,” Hollerich said.
And a dedicated bunch they were. One Blue Earth County delegate was calculating the baby-sitting bill that would be waiting for him when he got home — $144 if he got there by 1 a.m. He didn’t.
“This is good for the baby-sitting economy,” said Kruse, the new district chairman.
For the history books
The 23-ballot endorsement battle appears to be a new record for the Minnesota Republican Party when it comes to statewide or congressional endorsing conventions. Former 1st District GOP Chairman Steve Perkins said there were 18 rounds of voting in a 1974 battle between congressional candidates Tom Hagedorn and Arlen Erdahl.
The Democrats had a legendary 20-ballot endorsement fight for governor in 1966 between Sandy Keith and Gov. Karl Rolvaag. And there was reportedly a DFL congressional endorsement in northern Minnesota in 1974 between state Sen. Tony Perpich and Jim Oberstar that went more than 30 ballots over two days.
The 2012 Quist-Parry dance marathon at the Kato Ballroom will now join the list. And the delegates who were there will be talking about it for years to come.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll even beat the overall record in May.
Parry hopes they keep at it until they settle on a candidate rather than leave the decision to voters in an Aug. 14 primary election.
“I think we have to bring the party back together,” he said. “... You can’t have a split party and still beat Tim Walz.”