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Heading north this weekend to steep yourself in DFL politics? Got questions? Fear not – we’re here to help.

What happens in Duluth: a convention FAQ

The Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center on the shore of Lake Superior will play host to the 2010 DFL state convention this weekend.

The Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center on the shore of Lake Superior will play host to the 2010 DFL state convention this weekend.

Heading north this weekend to steep yourself in DFL politics? Got questions? Fear not – we’re here to help.

The 2010 DFL State Convention officially kicks off Friday at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center with a call to order at 11 a.m.

In addition to a dizzying schedule of committee reports, election of a convention chair, co-chairs and delegation chairs, the first day includes a trio of foregone conclusions: the anointment of incumbent Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Attorney General Lori Swanson and State Auditor Rebecca Otto to run for re-election. (Only Ritchie has an opponent for the endorsement: Dick Franson, a frequent candidate for one office or another, whose website reminds voters to be alert, and adds this helpful tidbit: “It is not politically correct to say all Muslims are terrorists, but it is politically correct to say all terrorists are Muslims.”)

On Friday, convention delegates will also vote on convention rules created by the party’s rules committee, and will hear from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The real fun begins on Saturday.

Six credible DFL candidates are seeking the party’s endorsement to run for governor in November: Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, state Reps. Paul Thissen and Tom Rukavina, state Sen. John Marty and former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza.

Two more DFL gubernatorial hopefuls, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, are bypassing the endorsement process entirely and will put their names on the August primary ballot. Entenza, too, has said that he’ll run in the primary; his participation in the endorsement process seems mainly cursory, as the two front-runners are widely acknowledged to be Rybak and Kelliher.

Kelliher, Rybak, Thissen, Rukavina and Marty have all said that they will abide by the endorsement and won’t be on the primary ballot.

Oh, and there are fringe candidates: Felix Montez, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican two years ago against state Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis; Scott Raskiewicz, who describes himself as a “social libertarian DFLer;” and Ole Savior, whose name will likely show up on the primary ballot as well, as it did in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

The gubernatorial endorsement battle begins promptly at 9:30 a.m., after delegates have had their coffee and been greeted by U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Jim Oberstar.

Got more questions? We’ve got answers.

Who will attend the state DFL convention?

Convention attendees include 1,200 delegates who were elected at DFL county unit conventions. In addition, there are 190 so-called “superdelegates” (or, as the DFL primly refers to them in its literature, “automatic delegates”). Those include state party officers, congressional district chairs and associate chairs, state legislators, elected officials at the federal level, tribal representatives and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

According to Joe Bodell at Minnesota Progressive Project, who has been diligent about keeping track of superdelegates since they started declaring for the various candidates, Kelliher is kicking everybody else’s behind in the superdelegate derby: As of midweek, she had collected 52 (most of them state legislators), compared to 18 for state Sen. Tom Bakk (who withdrew from the race last month), 11 for Entenza, 10 for Rybak, five each for Marty and Thissen, four for Rukavina, three each for Dayton and former Sen. Steve Kelley (who dropped out of the running in February) and two for Gaertner.

And yes, non-official visitors can come to the convention “as space permits,” according to the party.

What do the DFL’s state convention committees and commissions do?

There are five committees or commissions involved in the convention: constitution/bylaws, which recommends changes to the state DFL constitution and bylaws and reports on delegate and alternate challenges; credentials, which supervises registration of convention delegates and alternates and prepares a temporary roll at the convention; nominations, which screens and recommends candidates for at-large directors; platform and issues, which recommends amendments, additions and deletions to the DFL’s “ongoing platform” and items for the party’s “action agenda;” and the rules committee, which proposes changes to the temporary and proposed permanent rules and agenda for the convention.

Last week, the rules committee proposed a new “drop rule” percentage for the convention. Previously, the dropoff percentage proposal was 5 percent, meaning that any candidate who received fewer than 5 percent of the votes after the first ballot would be dropped. The committee agreed to lower the dropoff percentage to 4 percent, which could conceivably allow the second-tier candidates (Thissen, Rukavina and Marty) to stick around for more ballots.

On each ballot after the first, the dropoff percentage will increase by 4 percentage points. On the fourth and each subsequent ballot, if the dropoff rule would eliminate more than one candidate, only the candidate who received the lowest percentage of the vote would be dropped. If applying the dropoff rule would eliminate all but one candidate, the two candidates with the highest percentage of votes on the previous ballot would stay in the race.

Kristin Sosanie, the DFL’s deputy communications director, says there’s still a chance that the committee’s proposed rules could be changed once the convention begins.

Which gubernatorial candidate has collected the most pledged delegates so far?

That would be none of them. As of midweek, according to Bodell at the Minnesota Progressive Project, 485 delegates remained uncommitted. Kelliher and Rybak were essentially neck-and-neck, with 179.5 for the speaker and 177.5 for the mayor. Marty had 74 pledged delegates, Thissen 68, Rukavina 49.5 and Entenza 29.5.

What about the reNEW Minnesota campaign?

What effect will it have on the endorsement battle? A large share of those uncommitted delegates – 160 – are part of the reNEW Minnesota group, a project being spearheaded by TakeAction Minnesota, and they plan to vote as a group for one of three candidates whom they endorsed in January: Kelliher, Rybak and Thissen.

No one – including the reNEW Minnesota group – knows yet which candidate will get the nod. The plan is for the delegates to coalesce behind one candidate, depending on who they believe can win the endorsement, but there’s no clear idea yet about how that will take shape.

“I don’t know the mechanism exactly by which we’re going to decide,” Greta Bergstrom, TakeAction Minnesota’s communications director, told Politics in Minnesota last month. “We’re not going to walk into the convention knowing it’s Margaret or Rybak or Thissen. We’re expecting a very fluid convention with a lot of ebbs and flows as some of the candidates drop out or are forced to drop out.”

The only thing certain about reNEW Minnesota is that once the group makes its decision and throws its support behind one candidate, it will dramatically shift the endorsement momentum, or even bring it to an abrupt end.

Which would be kind of a shame, really, for those who enjoy the whole political theater thing.

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