The MNGOP is in the midst of a turning point on the question of the endorsement process. The unspoken rule of never going outside the endorsement process to the primary is being significantly challenged this cycle at the legislative, congressional district and statewide level. Here's why the endorsement process matters, and why it will survive this election cycle.
First and foremost, the Republican Party in Minnesota has a tradition of local activists who come out to support campaigns at all levels. It is repeated so often to be almost cliche but it is still true-the delegates and alternates from county and BPOU conventions are the majority of the volunteers that will be out pounding lawn signs, walking in parades, doing lit drops, and showing up to candidate rallies. Unlike the DFL, which harness their allies in the unions to provide much of the legwork for campaigns, the GOP has to rely on unpaid, uncompensated volunteers for any ground game.
These volunteers give their time for a variety of reasons; some are simply conservative to the core and would support any conservative candidate, others see the direction the party has been trending and want to have a voice in choosing the candidates the GOP puts forward (that was the reason that got me into party politics). These activists are the sounding board that every candidate tests themselves on, allowing candidates to start with small groups of people and work their way up to larger forums. Giving the choice in endorsements to these party activists is the surest way of getting strong conservative candidates on the ballot to represent the MNGOP.
The second reason the endorsement matters is the party resources that comes with being the endorsed candidate. The largest resource the party has to give is data access. Voter and donor information has gone through several programs in recent years, first Voter Vault, then Phoenix, and now Data Center. Party policy regarding data access is that once an endorsement is made, only that endorsed candidate may have access to party data. That means that Rhonda Sivarajah and Phil Krinkie, who have vowed to take CD6 to a primary, will have only the resources of their own campaigns to reach out to voters and donors with, while newly endorsed Tom Emmer will have all of his own resources, plus 24/7 access to the issues that individual voters are concerned about, history of their interaction with the party, historic willingness to volunteer for campaigns, ect.
The straw man argument made to this data access is that the MNGOP's financial and PR struggles over the last 2 years have left the party unable to help endorsed candidates. While it is true that the state party doesn't have the wherewithal to help as it did in the 2008 and 2010 cycles, the party's financial position has improved dramatically from 2012, and potential primary candidates would do well to remember that when they decide to oppose endorsed candidates. Additionally, the state party has made significant strides in the last year to develop closer relationships with outside groups that share our conservative values. That means that independent groups will be less likely to deploy resources on candidates who don't have the added value of party support.
The third reason the endorsement still matters is the simple fact that we are an endorsing state. You can argue that a primary system is better, an argument my friend Jeff Kolb has made effectively. But the fact is that moving Minnesota to a primary-only system would mean action from the state legislature, and very likely means the DFL party would have to agree to the change. The idea that we need to break the endorsement process in order to be able to change it is a simple nonesense, a romanticized version of the Destroyers from Ayn Rand fame. If the system needs to change, than we should change it. But intentionally wrecking the system will leave the MNGOP vulnerable to the DFL for multiple election cycles.
To encourage every candidate to buck the endorsement process and run to a primary would mean tens of millions of dollars of wasted money. Currently there are 6 candidates running for governor and 6 running for US Senate, which means each race is seeing a 6-way split of the money available from donors. Money spent by one candidate to buy signs, literature and travel expenses is gone from the election cycle forever; those signs and lit can't be recovered or recycled for the eventual general election candidate. The endorsement process winnows out candidates that have little real chance of winning a general election, and stops money from flowing to them and away from more serious candidates.
I believe in the endorsement process, and I think it works (the majority of the time) to help the party field the best possible candidates. And in this current election cycle, I predict the endorsement process will select the eventual general election candidates.