ST. PAUL (AP) -- Sheila Tolbert is one of 2,216 delegates to this week's Republican Party state convention, but she's sure to get more attention than most.
Tolbert, 44, of Austin, is one of the few who haven't decided between Rep. Tim Pawlenty and Brian Sullivan, a businessman from Orono, for the party's gubernatorial endorsement.
"I'm going to stay undecided until it gets down to the nitty gritty," Tolbert said. "It's a big responsibility, and I'm not taking it lightly."
The Pawlenty-Sullivan duel is the main event -- and the only one with any mystery -- at the three-day convention at Xcel Energy Center.
The convention opens Thursday with the endorsements of Norm Coleman for U.S. Senate and Mary Kiffmeyer for a second term as secretary of state. On Saturday, the party will endorse candidates in two other uncontested races -- Pat Anderson Awada for state auditor and Tom Kelly for attorney general.
On Friday, delegates will spend as long as it takes to endorse a candidate for governor. For endorsement, a candidate must get at least 60 percent of the votes cast. Multiple ballots are expected.
"I'm not sure of many things in my life, but I'm sure there will be an endorsement on June 14th -- or 15th," Pawlenty campaign manager Tim Commers said in jest.
The race is a toss-up.
Pawlenty and Sullivan each won four straw polls conducted at Republican conventions held in Minnesota's eight congressional districts since late April. Sullivan had 1,034 votes overall to Pawlenty's 987, although only about 80 percent of district delegates will be voters at the state convention.
Both men have promised to drop their campaigns if they're not endorsed, and they have fought hard to this point.
Pawlenty pounced on Sullivan's disclosure that he donated to a Democratic congressman who helped his former company win defense contracts, hoping to cast doubt on Sullivan's claim of ideological purity. Sullivan often paints Pawlenty as a career politician too willing to compromise on party values.
They have similar positions on key policies: no tax increases, more permissive concealed-carry gun laws, abandonment of the Profile of Learning graduation standards.
The do-or-die battle energized Republicans and got them focused on the campaign early, said party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner.
"This is ideal," he said. "You couldn't script it any better."
Tolbert, a first-time delegate, is excited to be a big player.
She's met both candidates in person and finds each "exceptional." Sullivan's business background is attractive to Tolbert, a home loan lender who is active in the area Chamber of Commerce. But her Republican friends are pulling for Pawlenty. She's been bombarded with mail and phone calls from both campaigns.
"They're going to have to work hard for (my vote), that's for sure," she said. She'll back whomever seems to be the most electable, she said.
The victor moves on to a general election showdown with DFL candidate Roger Moe and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel. Gov. Jesse Ventura of the Independence Party said he'll announce in late June or early July whether he'll run again.
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