In a surprisingly conclusive vote Saturday, Senate District 62 DFLers endorsed political newcomer Patricia Torres Ray to succeed retiring state Sen. Wes Skoglund.
Torres Ray, a longtime policy analyst at the state Department of Human Services who entered the race only two months ago, led in the delegate count from the beginning and was endorsed unanimously after the fourth ballot when runner-up Matt Gladue withdrew.
“Si se puede,” a tearful Torres Ray told convention delegates, explaining her faith in hard work and perseverance as a way to rise from her immigrant origins. “I knew this 19 years ago. I knew I was in the right place.”
With the endorsement in this heavily DFL district, Torres Ray is likely to become the first Latina woman ever elected to the Minnesota Senate.
The eight-candidate race was quickly cut to four after the first ballot, when Wally Storbakken, Tom Westcott, Tina Sanz, and Earl Netwal failed to gain the required 10 percent of the delegates. Torres Ray topped the field with 25.6 percent of the vote, followed by Alex Eaton (20 percent), Matt Gladue (18 percent), and Scott Benson (16 percent).
Eaton withdrew after a second ballot that saw him fall behind Gladue (22.4 percent) and Benson (21.7 percent), while Torres Ray climbed to 31.8 percent. “I believe we need to move forward,” Eaton said as he released his delegates to Torres Ray.
Despite bringing the incumbent Skoglund down onto the floor to lobby delegates on his behalf, Benson made little headway on the third ballot, finishing with 24.6 percent, while Gladue (28.4 percent) and Torres Ray (46.8 percent) moved ahead. He thanked his supporters and dropped out before the fourth ballot.
Benson, the 11th Ward City Council member who chaired the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee, was thought by some to be the favorite in the race. He admitted later that he was surprised by the strength of the Torres Ray campaign and suggested that Eaton’s early release of his delegates was the turning point in the convention battle. Still, he remained philosophical about his first electoral loss. “It feels okay,” he said. “You take that risk if you want to run for something.”
Gladue withdrew before the announcement of the fourth ballot results, urging the convention to unite behind Torres Ray—which it did with much enthusiasm.
In an interview later, Torres Ray explained that she was able to mobilize so much political support so quickly because she decided to commit herself fully to the race. She quit her job and threw herself completely into the campaign, and that, she said, impressed local DFLers. “They understood from day one that I was serious about this,” she said. “District 62 really valued and admired who I am.”
It was a feeling shared by state Rep. Jim Davnie, on whom the precedent of the occasion was not lost. “When I heard her say, ‘Si se puede,’” he said. “I knew this was going to be a different district.