ST. PAUL -- Two state representatives moved away from other Republican governor candidates and a pair of well-known Democrats battled for bragging rights Tuesday night as Minnesotans attending more than 8,000 neighborhood meetings began picking their favorites.

Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall led Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano in a GOP precinct caucus gubernatorial straw poll. With 96 percent of the precincts counted, Seifert had 50 percent to Emmer's 39 percent in unofficial results; five other candidates and write-ins took the rest of the votes.

On the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party side, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis each had about 20 percent of the governor vote with 78 percent of precincts in this morning.

In the field of 11 Democrats, state Sen. John Marty of Roseville was just short of 10 percent. State Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia, former state Rep. Matt Entenza of St. Paul, state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook and state Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis were slightly behind Marty. About 15 percent of Democrats were not committed to a candidate.

Reports from around Minnesota indicated many precincts had an average or below average turnout, and much below that of two years ago. That was when both major parties' caucuses attracted record turnouts, mostly thanks to a heated presidential contest.

More than 300 Senate District 56 Democrats met at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo. DFL activist Sue Halligan of Woodbury said it is not surprising fewer people caucused this year.

Many voters are "fed up" and frustrated with politicians of both major political parties, and many people don't get into the "nitty gritty" of political party organizing that dominates caucuses, she said.

Senate District 56 Republicans caucused at Stillwater Area High School and East Ridge High School in Woodbury. There were a combined 417 people reported at the local GOP caucuses.

The statewide gubernatorial straw polls were not binding. Complete results were not expected until early today.

Seifert was pleased with early results and said it appeared to make the Republican contest a two-man race. The Marshall Republican was doing well in the rural western areas, and said he needed to hold his own in the Twin Cities.

To Seifert, the straw poll was very important.

"The reality is, these are the folks who will now pick the candidate on April 30," Seifert said. "The reality is this is the new electorate."

On the DFL side, Rybak and Kelliher were being cautious, both Minneapolis politicians touting their support outside the Twin Cities.

"It shows that people are connecting with us in every corner of Minnesota, from Duluth to Hutchinson to Minnetonka to Eagan," Rybak said.

Kelliher said her campaign staff and volunteers reported that she, Bakk and Rukavina were doing well in rural areas, but did not know if Tuesday's poll would narrow the field.

"I think everybody is pretty committed to this competitive race," she added.

Her campaign is pleased, Kelliher said. "We feel good about this showing in the straw poll."

Another state representative also was happy, although he was not finishing first.

"I said all along I had a good feeling in my gut I would do good in this election," Rukavina said, as he remained in the second tier of candidates, in the third or fourth position, most of the night.

He admitted he "did better than most people expected," attributing that to being "the blue collar, ordinary person. I have said from the beginning that I have walked in a lot of shoes."

Rukavina said that he has a good chance of gaining on Kelliher and Rybak with so many uncommitted delegates.

Reports from around Minnesota indicated many precincts had an average or below average turnout, and much below that of two years ago. That was when both major parties' caucuses attracted record turnouts, mostly thanks to a heated presidential contest.

Republicans in the straw poll were former mayor candidate Robert Carney of Minneapolis, environmentalist Leslie Davis of Minneapolis, Emmer, former state Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin, state Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, businessman Philip Herwig of Milaca and Seifert.

Independence candidates were businessman Robert Hahn of St. Paul, public relations executive Tom Horner of Edina and former Republican Joe Repya of Eagan. The Independence poll continues on line through the month.

Democrats in the race are Bakk, Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner of White Bear Lake, former state Sen. Steve Kelley of Hopkins, Kelliher, Marty, former GOP legislative candidate Felix Montez of Minneapolis, Rukavina, Rybak, artist Ole Savior of Minneapolis and Thissen.

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton asked that his name not be on the caucus straw poll ballot, saying he thinks the public voting in a primary election should determine a party's nominee.

Besides Dayton, Gaertner said she will run in a primary election and Entenza has hinted that he will.

That means the DFL contest will drag out until August, when this year's primary election is expected to be held. Republicans, other than long-shot Davis, promise to go along with their party's April convention endorsement, giving the GOP candidate more than three months' head start on the eventual Democratic nominee.

Before the caucuses, Seifert and Emmer were thought to be the GOP leaders, with Hann coming in a distant third. A straw poll during an October Republican convention set the early order and polls some counties have done little to change it, other than show that Emmer was gaining on leader Seifert.

Dayton and Entenza are the big-money kings of the DFL. But Rybak and Kelliher are well known and other candidates have spent a lot of time around the state.

Dayton loaned his campaign $570,000 out of $642,000 the campaign raised in 2009. The campaign spent $625,000, more than twice as much as any other campaign even raised and three times as much as most.

Most campaigns report having more money on hand than Dayton's $16,800.

"My finance report shows that my priority in 2009 was not on fundraising, as I am uniquely fortunate in not having to do it," Dayton said in a statement.

The heir to the Dayton-Target fortune and former U.S. senator said he plans to increase fundraising efforts before this year's election.

Dayton's finance report is in stark contrast to some of his opponents. For instance, Gaertner raised $111,000 last year, Kelley collected $187,000 and Kelliher reported $254,000 in donations.

Entenza's report showed he raised $300,000; he gave and loaned the campaign $80,000.

Woodbury Bulletin staff contributed to this story.

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