ST. PAUL -- Dangling high above the floor at Xcel Energy Center, normally the home of the Minnesota Wild but currently the nerve center of the Republican Party, was a banner depicting Tim Pawlenty in hockey gear.
But nobody had home ice at the state GOP convention, and Pawlenty's rival for the gubernatorial endorsement, Brian Sullivan, had plenty of banners flying on his behalf, too.
Thursday, Republicans unanimously endorsed Mary Kiffmeyer in her bid for a second term as secretary of state and Norm Coleman in the U.S. Senate race.
For Pawlenty and Sullivan, it wasn't extreme to consider Friday's endorsement balloting as Game 7 of a contest that started long ago. The loser had agreed to drop his bid for governor, giving the other a clear path to November.
In his speech, Sullivan, an Orono businessman, painted himself as an outsider, in contrast to Pawlenty, the state House majority leader, and the DFL candidate, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. But he said he'd make a better governor than the outsider who now holds the job, Jesse Ventura.
Sullivan decried the "Hollywood values" of Ventura and Moe, but the spectacle that accompanied his speech was as slick as any Tinseltown production. The big-budget production was evidence that Sullivan is ready to use his money to wage an aggressive campaign this fall.
An ominous drum beat opened a video as dark pictures of congestion, slums and dollar bills in a wastebasket filled two giant screens. Then the music changed to a patriotic, trumpet call as Sullivan was introduced.
Pyrotechnics fit for a Kiss concert exploded on the stage as Sullivan made his way to the podium across the arena floor, a daughter in hand. His name lit up in flames on stage. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of red, white and blue confetti streamed down from the rafters, covering the entire hall. Fireworks screamed across the arena.
"Jesse's dream political campaign this year is another race against two political insiders," Sullivan said. "That's what Jesse wants -- that's the campaign Jesse dreams about. He would just love to run against two career politicians who'll play the straight men in his act.
"Well, I am not that man. I am not Jesse's dream candidate. I am here today to offer you and the voters of Minnesota the clearest alternative to Jesse Ventura and Roger Moe."
Pawlenty's opening to the 2,200 delegates featured a more traditional political display, with a stage crowded with children and sign-waving supporters -- many of them lawmakers.
A conservative cult hero, Rep. Phil Krinkie of Shoreview, then ran onto the stage to nominate Pawlenty, winning big cheers.
Pawlenty's own film featured views of South St. Paul and him talking about his family's working class roots and working his way through college. Lawmakers sang his praises, as video clips showed some of his beset quips from the House floor.
Pawlenty was shown lacing up hockey boots. Shooting into an empty net.
He took the stage to a working man's rocker, John Mellencamp singing "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."
In a less-than-traditional opening to his speech, he described finding himself in a back alley in Minneapolis recently, sitting on a curb and brushing his teeth. Soon he struck up a conversation with a man asking for change. "Duane," he told him. "I'm going to be Minnesota's next governor."
"Man, you got it tough," Pawlenty quoted him as saying.
Pawlenty told the delegates his record shows he'd be an aggressive promoter of their conservative values.
"I've been in the battle," he said. "I've been in the trenches. I've been slugging it out for the values and the cause. I'm asking you now to stand with me.
"There's an old proverb that says, 'Be a voice and not an echo.' I'm asking you for the privilege to be your voice."
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