By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
Former state Rep. Allen Quist on Saturday won double the delegates of state Sen. Mike Parry at the Blue Earth County Republican Convention, the event which sends the second biggest contingent to the endorsing convention that will choose the challenger to Democratic Congressman Tim Walz.
At least nine Blue Earth County residents who are supporting Quist were elected to attend the 1st Congressional District Republican Convention on April 21. Parry won at least four delegates. Another nine were still deciding between the two candidates or didn’t reveal their preference.
Blue Earth County, one of five 1st District counties with Republican conventions Saturday, has 22 delegates to send to the endorsing convention, second only to Olmsted County’s 61. Quist and Parry have now surpassed the half-way point in their mad dash to rally supporters at the county conventions, often being held simultaneously miles apart.
Eleven of the 21 total events have now been held, including Olmsted’s in Rochester last weekend. Neither Quist nor Parry were offering any delegate counts Saturday, but Quist said he believes he did very well in Rochester.
“We were most concerned about Olmsted County,” he said of the five conventions a week ago.
Two years ago, then-state Rep. Randy Demmer had 35-40 more delegates from that county than Quist. The margin helped Demmer win the four-candidate 2010 endorsement contest, with Quist finishing second, although Walz won the general election.
“This time around, of the committed delegates, we probably have over 50 percent,” Quist said of the Olmsted County event.
That was also the case at the Blue Earth County convention held at Minnesota State University. But some local Parry supporters said the folks at the Blue Earth County Convention probably aren’t representative of what’s happening in other 1st District counties because so many were brought into the process by the presidential candidacy of Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
“I’d say it is unique in the 1st District,” said Willa Dailey, a Parry supporter who was elected as a delegate to the endorsing convention.
Supporters of Paul dominated the Feb. 7 precinct caucuses in Mankato, and caucuses are where the delegates to the county convention are selected. A substantial portion of the Paul support came from college students and other young voters who aren’t as prevalent in other counties of the district, other than perhaps Winona County, Dailey said.
“Quist and Paul are tied together, joined at the hip,” said Jerry Groebner of Madison Lake, who is supporting Parry for Congress and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for president.
Quist delegate Chris Kleinschmidt of Mankato agreed that the libertarian-leaning presidential candidate from Texas and the conservative congressional candidate from St. Peter share positions on some key issues. Kleinschmidt said that provides a strategic reason for Republicans to favor Quist — because his positions on the Federal Reserve, corporate influence on government and deficit reduction can appeal to independents and even liberals in the general election.
“He might get some interest from the Democrats who are attuned to some of the economic issues right now,” Kleinschmidt said of Quist.
But it was far from just Paul supporters who were backing Quist. Lutheran Pastor Norman Greve, who won one of the 22 delegate slots to the endorsing convention, said he was backing Santorum and leaning toward Quist.
About Quist, Greve said: “I like his bold proposals for really slashing government to its constitutional limits.”
On the presidential race, Greve said there are aspects of Paul’s libertarianism and foreign policy that concern him, so he’s supporting Santorum. While deficit reduction is his top issue, social issues are also important.
“I don’t know if we want June Cleaver back, but it was a pretty good time when I grew up in the ’50’s,” he said.
Parry supporters talked about the energy the former radio broadcaster and Waseca pizza restaurant owner brings to the race. He bounded onto the stage of Ostrander Auditorium, surrounded by family members in red campaign T-shirts.
“Are you ready to get rid of Obama?” Parry shouted. “Come on, let’s hear it! Are you ready to get rid of Tim Walz?”
He quickly ran through his biography and campaign themes.
Parry didn’t mention Quist’s recent string of second-place finishes (he hasn’t won an election since his last state House wins more than two decades ago), but he said his special election and general election Senate victories prove that his words inspire not just Republicans.
“That message resonates with independents and that message resonates with Reagan Democrats, and those people are out there,” Parry said.
In a quick interview before he headed to Watonwan and Nobles counties, Parry wouldn’t estimate how the delegate count is shaping up. He’s pledged to drop from the race if the delegates support Quist on April 21, but he said he doesn’t expect that to happen.
“I go for the gusto,” he said. “I want to win and I bet I will win.”
Quist was similarly confident as he ended a day where he visited the Blue Earth, Faribault and Nobles County Republican conventions while his wife and campaign manager Julie handled the events in Waseca and Watonwan counties.
“I would say we are very happy with the way things are going so far,” he said.
The county conventions are only part of the process of winning the endorsement. Over the next seven weeks, Parry and Quist will be repeatedly contacting the approximately 260 delegates who will be elected to the endorsing convention — trying to win over the undecided ones and convert some of their opponent’s less-solid supporters.
“Last time around, I was receiving at least four phone calls a day,” Dailey said, noting that there were twice as many contenders. “I spent hours on the phone. Lots and lots of mail to recycle.”