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Candidate drops out of race after alleged strip club visit with Rochester lawmaker

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The lone Republican candidate for Minnesota Secretary of State dropped out of the race Monday, following reports that he went to a strip club with Rochester GOP Sen. Dave Senjem after announcing his candidacy.

Twin Cities businessman Dennis Nguyen announced this morning in a statement that he had too many family and business obligations to run. He has four young children.

"With my many ongoing obligations, both business and civic, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to make a full time commitment to a statewide campaign at this time," Nguyen said.

His announcement comes less than a week after former DFL activist and blogger Shawn Towle with Checks & Balances  commented on Twitter that he had talked with Nguyen and the candidate confirmed he'd been to a strip club with a Republican leader. A later Twitter post said Nguyen had been seen with Senjem at the the Seville Club in Minneapolis.

Republican blogger Jeff Kolb followed up on those tweets, calling for more Republicans to get in the race. He also tweeted that he had talked with Nguyen who "confirmed he was at a strip club with Senjem on Senjem's birthday."

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Nguyen did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

In an interview Monday morning, Senjem declined to discuss whether or not he went to a strip club with Nguyen.

"I'm not even going to talk about it now," he said. That would "just amplify it."

Senjem expressed disappointment that Nguyen had dropped out of the race. The former Senate Majority Leader said he first met the businessman when he was a finalist for University of Minnesota regent in 2013.

"He has a sense of service and he wanted to run. He was a very qualified person from the standpoint of overall intelligence," Senjem said.

Nguyen had also asked Senjem to consider serving on the corporate board for New Asia Partners, which owns and operates a restaurant chain in Vietnam. The Rochester Republican traveled to Vietnam to see the restaurant operations for himself.

Nguyen had racked up more than 60 Republican legislative endorsements heading into the race to replace retiring three-term DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Now Republicans are scrambling to find another candidate. Two DFL lawmakers, Rep. Steve Simon of St. Louis Park and Rep. Deb Hillstrom of Brooklyn Center, are already running.

Keith Downey, chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said in a statement that the party appreciated Nguyen's willingness to run for the seat and expects he will remain active in the party.

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He added, "Thankfully, the field of potential Republican candidates considering running for Secretary of State remains very strong, and we will field an excellent candidate to restore the integrity of the Office of the Secretary of State."

Downey did not respond to a question asking whether the party had asked Nguyen to withdraw from the race.

Nguyen's position on some key Republican issues had also become somewhat confusing. City Pages initially reported last week Nguyen's campaign manager, Sen. Brendan Petersen, R-Andover, said the candidate supported abortion rights. A day later, the story was updated with Petersen quoted as having said he "misspoke" when characterizing Nguyen's position and that "he's very pro-life."

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