Republicans express mixed opinions as Pawlenty forces primary

By Adelle Whitefoot

Three weeks before the Minnesota GOP State Convention, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he would not be attending or seeking the endorsement from the Republican party. Instead, he was going to force a primary.

This left many Republicans with mixed feelings about the former governor during the convention June 1-2 in Duluth.

“We are certainly disappointed that former Gov. Pawlenty is not choosing to go for the endorsement,” said Minnesota GOP chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. “However, I do respect that every candidate and their campaign has to make the decision that they feel is best to get their own path to victory.”

Carnahan went on to say that in modern history there has only been one time an unendorsed candidate has beaten an endorsed candidate in a statewide election.

“That was when Gov. Arne Carlson was not endorsed but he was the sitting governor and he defeated Al Quist in the primary (in 1994),” she said.

Sheldon Anderson, of Wyoming, Minn., also said forcing a primary was Pawlenty’s right.

“Tim can do what he wants to do. He makes his own decisions. Some people like it and some people don’t, but it’s his option to do so,” he said. “I think it would have been best if he would have shown up for the convention to at least talk to people. That’s just my opinion.”

Others at the convention were not so understanding of Pawlenty’s choice to skip it.

“If he thinks he has enough of a chance to beat out the endorsed candidate for the Republican Party, he should have been here,” said Gary Bergquist, of Duluth. “He’ll have his spot in the news, but I think our endorsed candidate will overcome him in the primary. I think he’s wasting all of our time by not getting into the process.”

Boni Bienieck, of Two Harbors, said she’s more confident about Pawlenty’s shot in August.

“I think he does have a chance against the endorsed candidate because he has the name recognition,” she said. “I’m afraid of the uninformed, that they’ll just vote for Pawlenty because they know his name.”

Bieniek said she thinks it was a horrible idea for Pawlenty to get into the race in the first place and that it’s terrible he’s forcing a primary.

“I even wrote him multiple times telling him to drop out of the race,” she said. “I think it’s a disgrace that he’s not here being apart of the process or engaging with the party. He’s basically turned his back on the Republican Party.”

On June 2, the GOP endorsed Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson as candidate for governor. Johnson will be taking on Pawlenty in the primary Aug. 14, but with a lot less money.

“We won’t be flying around in a plane,” Johnson told reporters after receiving the endorsement. “We’ll be driving around the state in a 2011 Jeep.”

But Johnson believes he can beat Pawlenty with his “grassroots” campaign.