DFLers at caucus undecided about governor

February 8, 2018 GMT

First District DFL Rep. Tim Walz won Tuesday night’s DFL caucus straw poll for governor, but many Rochester caucus-goers said they remain undecided when it comes to picking a candidate.

That’s the case for Muna Alimire, a University of Minnesota nursing student from Rochester. She joined the hundreds of Democrats who showed up at Willow Creek Middle School for the neighborhood political meetings. Topping her priority list is a candidate who will address health disparities. But at this point, she has not settled on a candidate for governor. Still, she wanted to be involved in the local party process.

“I just feel like it matters even more when it’s within your community, within your city, because that’s where you see the most difference,” Alimire said.

With 72 percent of precincts reporting statewide, Walz had a strong lead in the poll with 31 percent of the vote. Coming in second was State Auditor Rebecca Otto with 20 percent. In third place was Rep. Erin Murphy with 13 percent. Of those polled, nearly 13 percent said they were “uncommitted.” Former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman received nearly 12 percent, Rochester state Rep. Tina Liebling got 6 percent and state Rep. Paul Thissen had less than 5 percent. Results for Olmsted County were not available this morning.

Democratic turnout was expected to top 30,000 voters statewide — nearly triple the number of Republicans who caucused on Tuesday.

Doing well in the straw poll can give a boost to campaigns, but it doesn’t determine which candidate will ultimately be the party nominee. Rather, it comes down to the people selected to be delegates and which candidate they want to vote for during the state endorsing convention.

Rochester resident Emily Lynch is among those still trying to make up her mind about which Democratic candidate to support for governor. As a teacher, she is looking for a candidate who will be a strong supporter of public education.

“I think a lot of people are still trying to decide. I think there are several great candidates in the race,” she said.

Scott Bauer, of Rochester, said he has made up his mind. He voted for Otto in Tuesday night’s straw poll. Important issues for him include boosting the minimum wage, protecting the environment and helping students with college loan debt.

He also volunteered to be a caucus precinct convener for the first time in his nearly 30 years of caucusing. He said he decided it was important to get more involved in the party after Republican Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election.

“I think the swing to the right has a lot of people feeling like they need to be more involved,” Bauer said.

First District congressional candidates also sought to woo potential delegates. Iraq War veteran Dan Feehan, of North Mankato, made his pitch to voters gathered in classrooms. Also chatting with voters at Willow Creek Middle School was Rochester attorney Rich Wright. Former state Sen. Vicki Jensen attended caucuses in Freeborn and Mower counties.

A new candidate emerges

Tuesday night’s caucuses drew a large turnout from the Somali community, with many showing up to support a newly announced candidate for the Minnesota House.

Rochester Math and Science Academy Principal Abdulkadir Abdalla said he plans to run for the House District 26A seat. That is the seat currently held by Liebling. He said he will run for the seat even if Liebling decides to drop out of the gubernatorial race and seek re-election.

He said he urged his supporters in the Somali community to come to caucus.

“They’d like to see a change. They’d like to see someone who is running from the community who can at least deliver their message,” he said.

His priorities include advocating for social and economic justice, affordable healthcare and a quality education for everyone.

Senate District 26 DFL Chairwoman Deb Staley said she was pleased the caucus went smoothly. Turnout varied dramatically, with some precincts attracting three or four people and others nearing 40.

She added, “I think people really had a good time.”