ROCHESTER, Minn. -- After nearly nine hours of voting, delegates at the state's Republican Party left the Rochester Civic Center just before 2 a. m. Saturday undecided on their U.S. Senate endorsement.
St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dalhberg and businessman Mike McFadden remained locked in a narrow race. Dahlberg had 54 percent of the vote and McFadden had 44 percent of the vote.
Candidates need 60 percent of the vote to secure the endorsement.
The delegates will meet again at 9 a.m. Saturday morning to continue the contest.
Even if Dahlberg wins the endorsement, it does not guarantee he will be the GOP candidate to face off against incumbent DFL Sen. Al Franken in November, because McFadden says he will seek the party nomination in the August 12 primary election.
Dahlberg, a veteran and lawyer, was an underdog coming into the convention. State Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, was considered a frontrunner, but she remained stuck in third place throughout the balloting and was forced out of the race after the 5th ballot with 19 percent of the vote. Convention rules required any remaining candidates to have at least 20 percent.
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, hasn't decided whether he will run in the primary.
The endorsement battle foreshadows a second floor fight Saturday between five GOP candidates for the gubernatorial endorsement.
Balloting was slow in part because delegates were divided among candidates when they arrived in Rochester. On the first vote, all six candidates secured enough votes to be on the second ballot.
One-by-one, candidates, including Abeler and Monti Moreno, either failed to win enough votes to stay in the race or dropped out by their own volition.
Dahlberg's campaign got some last minute help from undecided delegates like Abby Sookraj of Robbinsdale, who voted for him on the first round of ballots after she heard his speech.
In part, she liked that Dahlberg has won elections in a Democratic-leaning area of the state.
"That's key in this race, is being able to compete successfully against Franken," she said.
Indeed, Dahlberg is counting on his bipartisan credentials to win votes. In his speech to delegates, Dahlberg touted union endorsements from prior campaigns for St. Louis County commissioner, and his ability to win elections in traditionally Democratic Duluth.
"You can be true to your conservative values and you can still have a broad appeal to people," Dahlberg said.
Lee Burke, also of Robbinsdale, shifted his support to Dahlberg on the second ballot after voting first for Moreno. Burke said he was waffling between Dahlberg and McFadden.
"I was really dismayed to find out McFadden wouldn't support the endorsement," Burke said. "At that point I thought, 'Nope. I'm not going to vote for him.'"
McFadden has long pledged to head to the primary no matter who was endorsed at the party convention.
If he's elected, Dahlberg says he will vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he would support efforts to help veterans when they come home from combat.
If Dahlberg wins the party endorsement, it will come with party money, resources and volunteer support.
But McFadden has had a fundraising edge from the start, which will help him in the primary. He has $1.8 million in the bank while Dahlberg has $39,000.
Delegates also picked Dan Severson to run for Secretary of State, state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchison, to run for Attorney General, and Randy Gilbert for State Auditor.