ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — In the kickoff to a second campaign for Minnesota governor, Republican Marty Seifert presented himself Thursday as a candidate who is detached from government yet knows his way around it.
That inside-outside message was on display as Seifert declared his candidacy in a three-stop tour. It's his effort to carve a path through a Republican field that has two defined camps: sitting lawmakers looking to move up and pure outsiders promising to inject a fresh voice and ideas.
"I have a mixture of public-sector and private-sector experience, not all one and not all the other," Seifert said at a Capitol news conference. "I understand the budget, but more importantly I understand the budget of the average working-class Minnesotan."
The former House minority leader has been out of elective office since falling short of his party's nod for governor in 2010. He joins a handful of GOP candidates vying to take on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton next year. Republicans will meet at their state convention in May to consider endorsing a candidate. But an August primary challenge is almost certain. Seifert didn't commit to ending his campaign if someone else is endorsed.
After spending 14 years in the state House, Seifert transitioned to real estate and hospital work back home in Marshall. Now 41, he said he's matured politically since the last campaign and noted he's aged in other ways, too, like his almost fully receded hairline.
Seifert is aiming to humanize his candidacy more than the prior run, when some thought he lacked a personal touch. In his new website biography, he describes himself as a "wrench-head" who tinkers with antique cars and engines. His collection includes a 1926 Dodge and 1904 horseless carriage. He cut short a question-and-answer session to tend to one of his two children, who fainted under the hot lights as his father spoke.
But Seifert still comes off as the detail-loving wonk that defined his time in the Legislature. He outlined a five-plank campaign, including pledges to abolish three-cabinet level departments and slice the budgets of remaining ones by 7 percent or more. He said he would move to stiffen sentences for serious sex offenses and make room in prisons by revisiting penalties for low-level drug crimes.
Seifert had been considering a campaign for months and finished second as a write-in during a recent straw poll at a state GOP meeting.
Democrats on Thursday sought to portray Seifert as too conservative for the state. Democratic Party chairman Ken Martin argued in statement that voters "want someone they can trust to work with both Democrats and Republicans for solutions to problems" and said Seifert wasn't it.
Dayton is aiming for a second term and has no announced challengers from within his party.
Of the main contenders for the GOP nomination, Seifert is the only one who lives far from the Twin Cities. Minnesota hasn't elected a governor who lived outside the Twin Cities area since Democrat Rudy Perpich in 1986.
State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, was among a rural contingent by Seifert's side and said the geographic roots are an asset.
"When he says he can stitch together the metro and the rural I think he can," Westrom said.
The other candidates on the GOP side are: businessman Scott Honour, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, state Sen. Dave Thompson, state Rep. Kurt Zellers and special education teacher Rob Farnsworth.
Entering the race months after his rivals and swearing off lobbyist contributions, Seifert has fundraising ground to make up. But he said he would rather campaign like the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, known for his intense, ground-level campaigning, than rely on a consultant-driven effort.
"Amateurs built the Ark and professionals built the Titanic," he said. "We have a lot of political professionals in this state that have screwed up campaigns for the Republican Party that get paid an enormous amount of money. Now let's try it a different way."