Minnesota House District 55A GOP candidate Bob Loonan is calling foul play against the district’s GOP party leaders, claiming they misled caucus-goers regarding the 55A endorsement date. The accusation comes ahead of what District 55 GOP leader Joe Ditto said could be another messy election, with the same two GOP candidates running to defeat DFL incumbent Brad Tabke.
After a caucus, delegates appear at a convention, where they endorse the candidate they want represented by their specific party.
The GOP convention in Scott County involves endorsing the 55A, 55B and Senate District 55 candidates. This year, caucus-goers were only informed of a March 14 convention for House Districts 55B and Senate District 55. A March 7 endorsing date for District 55A was postmarked and sent to delegates by party leaders the date after the caucuses.
In a Scott County GOP Facebook post, the party said it “could not issue the 55A endorsing convention call at the caucus night because we did not know if the venue would hold enough people based on caucus turnout.”
Ditto said having two different endorsement dates is common, and that he and District 55A Chair Tony LaLonde had discussed the March 7 endorsement date for weeks, since the 55A race is hotly contested and could take hours. The candidates for the seat include Tabke, Loonan and Republican Erik Mortensen.
The 55B and Senate District 55 races are both uncontested, so there is a smaller projected turnout, Ditto said.
He also said Loonan would have known about these discussions had he made an appearance at any of the SCGOP executive board meetings.
“We didn’t want to make all the people from 55B and 55 sit through all that, so we called a separate convention,” Ditto said. “Bob Loonan has refused to talk to me for the last two years...so he wasn’t privy to this.”
Loonan told the Valley News in an interview that it wouldn't have made a difference if he had shown up to the SCGOP executive board meetings, because Ditto could "unilaterally change the date on his own," and the convention date decisions were never made at the meetings.
Ditto said in a response that if Loonan "would have communicated with me in any way, he would have known that March 7 was the target date." Ditto also said when SCGOP is deciding on a convention date, it reaches out to the candidates to ask their availability and then schedules a mutually agreeable date.
"Bob wouldn't talk to us," Ditto said. "I don't know what he expected."
Loonan posted on Facebook that Ditto and LaLonde chose to “inform a small group of known Mortensen supporters” of the March 7 endorsement date. Loonan said some of the delegates who originally signed up to support him at what they thought would be a March 14 endorsement might not be able to make it to the March 7 endorsement due to scheduling conflicts.
“It's just a political reindeer game,” Loonan said.
The SCGOP Facebook post referenced several examples of what it believed was Loonan's historical unwillingness to work with the party, dating back to 2014.
"While Bob is trying to frame a narrative that there are just a couple people trying to do things against him, he has heard from the upper echelons of the Republican Party that his actions are not welcomed," the post read. "The facts are that Bob lies and tries to use Republicans and their organizations when it’s convenient for him."
The post then defended the decision to make March 7 the 55A endorsing date and called Loonan's claim that the SCGOP moved the date "completely untrue."
"At the February 2020 Scott County GOP meeting, it was openly talked about that they did not fully know what to expect for caucus turnout and even corrected the January meeting minutes that showed we empowered our chairman Joe Ditto to call a convention to remain nimble if we had to react quickly to changing circumstances."
Ditto, expressing his longstanding tense relationship with Loonan, echoed these sentiments and said the candidate "doesn’t like to deal with the party."
At the Feb. 25 caucus, Loonan walked into a room and ensured the precinct he would unify the Republican party if elected.
"You need to know I don't fight with Republicans," Loonan said. "I fight with liberals."