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Zellers decides on running mate, not on convention

Former state Rep. Dean Simpson of Perham answers a reporter's question Thursday, May 22, 2014, after Minnesota Republican governor candidate Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove (right) introduces the grocery store owner as his running mate. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Minnesota Republican governor candidate Kurt Zellers Thursday announced his running mate, Perham's Dean Simpson, but he said still does not know if he will seek the state convention endorsement or just go directly to the summer primary election.

Grocery store owner and former state representative Simpson, 63, joins Zellers’ ticket as the campaign moves toward the May 31 state party convention.

“Dean absolutely exemplifies that he is the quintessential main street Minnesota business owner,” Zellers, 44, said. “He’s just Minnesota to his core.”

Simpson’s grocery store in Perham anchors a 40-acre business park. He also owns a New York Mills store.

His business background will help him attract jobs to the state, Zellers said.

Former state House Speaker Zellers called Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration “Minneapolis-centric” and inefficient. Simpson said his 25-year service as mayor of New York Mills taught him what rural Minnesotans need.

“We need housing. We need employees. We need a transportation system that works,” Simpson said.

After announcing in Moorhead that he picked Simpson, Zellers stood in front of the state Capitol, where he and Simpson served in the House together, and said that he has not decided whether he will seek his party's endorsement May 31 at the convention in Rochester.

Zellers, a Devils Lake, N.D., native, already said he will run in the Aug. 12 primary, but still is considering whether to seek the GOP endorsement, too. He said he will be in Rochester, but said he will not decide until the middle of next week about asking for convention delegates' votes.

"My sense is it's a wide open convention," Zellers said.

He and Twin Cities businessman Scott Honour plan to run in the primary. Former state Rep. Mary Seifert of Marshall said this week that he likely will decide Thursday if he will seek the endorsement or just go to the primary.

While Democratic candidates have a history of running against others in their party in primary elections, it is rare for Republicans to do that.

The endorsement fight appears to be among Zellers; former state Rep. Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner; state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville; and Seifert of Marshall. Teacher Rob Farnsworth of Hibbing and perennial candidate Ole Savior of Minneapolis are running quiet campaigns.

If elected, Zellers said, he would prioritize copper and nickel mining and processing in the northeastern part of the state.

Zellers and Simpson became friends while serving on the state House Taxes Committee. Simpson, the former ranking Republican on that committee, left office in 2009.

Zellers' campaign raised about $91,000 in the first three months of the year, second only to investment banker Honour, who raised more than $235,000, much of which he donated himself.

Dayton raised about $189,000 over the same period and had more than $730,000 cash on hand.

Don Davis contributed to this story.