Republicans back Bills in U.S. Senate contest
by Paul Demko
Published: May 18,2012
Time posted: 5:15 pm
Freshman state Rep. Kurt Bills won the GOP endorsement for U.S. Senate on Friday, eclipsing the 60 percent threshold required for party backing on the second ballot. The endorsement victory clears the way for Bills to take on first-term DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar in November.
On the first ballot, Bills received 1,135 votes – 53 percent of all votes cast. That easily surpassed the two other credible challengers in the contest, former state Rep. Dan Severson and U.S. Army veteran Pete Hegseth. Severson received 501 votes (23.5 percent), while Hegseth was the top pick on 450 ballots (21.0 percent).
In his speech to the delegates at the St. Cloud convention center prior to the first ballot, Bills invoked the Biblical story of David and Goliath and the American Revolution in suggesting that he could upset Klobuchar. He also mocked the incumbent’s reputation for holding hot dish recipe contests and being likeable. “That’s all well and good, but Minnesota isn’t electing Miss Congeniality this November,” Bills said.
Severson’s speech focused on appealing to racial minorities. He questioned if Republicans can win statewide elections without increasing their support among voters in the Twin Cities and suggested the party should appeal to the immigrant communities like the Hmong and Somali. “Our minority groups are growing and we aren’t reaching out to them,” Severson said.
Hegseth suggested that he was the only candidate who could put the race on the national radar screen and raise sufficient funds to credibly challenge Klobuchar. “It will take more than courage to win this race in November,” Hegseth said. “It will take the right candidate. We don’t run against Democrats to make a point. We run against Democrats to win.”
Bills’ showing on the first ballot was expected by most political handicappers. But the results for Hegseth and Severson were a surprise. Hegseth was regarded as Bills’s closest challenger and few thought that he would trail Severson.
The outcome of the first ballot ensured a second round of voting because Hegseth and Severson both garnered more than 20 percent. But Bills soared to 64.2 percent, securing the endorsement. Severson gained ground over Hegseth on the final ballot. Hegseth fell to 14.9 percent, while Severson garnered 20.8 percent.
Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Bills referenced his campaign bus that was parked inside the convention center. “There’s a big bus just a couple of rooms away, and this family’s going to load up and we’re going to go fight for this country,” Bills said.
He also saluted his opponents and vowed to bring Republicans together. “We’re going to come out of this room united,” Bills said. “We’ll be united because whatever our differences are, they pale in comparison to what we have in common.”
Ken Martin, the chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, took issue with Bills’s characterization of Klobuchar as “Miss Congeniality” in a news release.
“It’s ironic that Kurt Bills would attack Senator Klobuchar by comparing her to Miss Congeniality the day after she passed a bipartisan bill guaranteeing 49,000 troops their promised benefits. She’s Senator Effective for Minnesota,” Martin said.
Staff writer Charley Shaw contributed to this report