MARSHALL - The race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination runs six lanes wide, but if you ask the Dave Thompson campaign, two favorites have already emerged.
In an email sent out Monday, the Thompson campaign said Marty Seifert and Thompson - Nos. 1-2, respectively, in this month's straw poll - are the top two candidates vying for the GOP endorsement in May. But the email did more than spell out the race's supposed frontrunners. It also went on the offensive against Seifert, saying the former legislator's claim that he entered the race for governor in November "rings hollow when one considers that he has been running for governor since 2009, and was actively seeking support for 2014 as early as July of this year."
Seifert disputed that statement Monday, pointing out that he was the lead for Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center's Building Hope fundraising campaign that ran for eight months in 2013 - a position he would've had a hard time holding down had he been mixing politics with his career.
"If you consider I was working 50 hours or more a week helping get the cancer center built, I would say that's not very accurate," Seifert said in response to Thompson's allegation that he was never really out of the political spotlight since running in 2010. "Frankly, I took a hiatus from politics from when I left the Legislature in 2010 all the way until announcing my bid for governor. Did I check in with people periodically now and then? Sure, but we had $6 in our campaign account when we got started."
"Marty has kind of indicated he just recently got in the game, almost like, 'aw shucks, I announced I'm running for governor in November and look how quickly my campaign built steam,'" said Thompson, who calls Seifert a "formidable opponent" and "very good" campaigner. "He was calling people for support back in July, I know that, and that's fine, but it wasn't like there was no activity until November. This is something that has been a long-term pursuit of his and to say this has all happened since November, that just isn't accurate."
The email also says Seifert is moving in the wrong direction, comparing straw polls in 2010 and this year. It said he brought in more than 50 percent of the vote in a seven-way race in 2010, while garnering just 28 percent this year.
And in another reference to 2010, Thompson, a current state senator from Lakeville, called Seifert out by claiming his campaign four years ago was a "divisive" one that did "horrendous damage to the eventual Republican nominee."
Seifert won last week's straw poll with 28 percent of the vote, just ahead of Thompson's 25 percent. Jeff Johnson was a distant third at 17 percent. In that regard, it could be considered a two-man race, but Seifert doesn't see it that way at all.
"It's not a two-man race; there are still a number of very good, credible candidates who are running," Seifert said. "I think it does a disservice to the other candidates to call it a two-man race."
Thompson, like Seifert, didn't go so far as to proclaim it a two-man race Monday despite what the straw poll indicates.
"There's an old saying in golf that says you can't win the Masters on Thursday and Friday but you can lose it, and I think the key to these straw polls is that if you finish poorly or underperform expectations it can be very harmful to your campaign," Thompson said. "You certainly can't win an election through a straw poll. I think the results are very good news for the Thompson and Seifert campaigns, but I'm not here to proclaim anybody out of this thing. I would not count anybody out."
The email also says both Seifert and Thompson performed well on their "home turf," but that Thompson has expanded his base into new areas of the state, despite having never appeared on a statewide ballot before caucus night.
Seifert said he doesn't get too worked up about political memos like the one the Thompson campaign put out Monday and calls the race "very fluid."