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The Minnesota Republican Party is back. Maybe. Or Not.

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
The Republican Party mascot took the stage at the Minnesota Republican Party election night gathering.

The future of the Republican Party of Minnesota, based on the results of last week’s elections, is either a) sound and poised for future gain, b) in flux, or c) still in doubt.

The correct answer — if there is one — depends on who you believe has the smartest analysis of the election: the current chair of the party; a former chair of the party; or the chairman of the Tom Emmer’s successful bid for congress.

Let’s start with the current chair: Keith Downey, who views Tuesday’s results as evidence that Republicans have regained their political footing. “The turnaround is basically over and the comeback can begin,” he said. “Arguably, it’s already started with the House.”

The Republicans gain of 11 seats in the Minnesota House has put them in the majority, a victory that Downey ascribes to solid political strategy — and a DFL Party that overplayed its hand. “The Democratic message was so Minneapolis-centric, it was deemed for what it was,” he said. “I think there was a significant check on Democrat power and a restoration of balance here in Minnesota and nationally.”

Downey interprets the DFL victories at the top of the ticket to the power of incumbency.  “Well-funded incumbents prevailed,” he said.  “And Al Franken outspent Mike McFadden five to one, an enormous amount to protect his seat.  When the dust is settled, I think we’ll see that Mark Dayton outspent Jeff Johnson three to one.”

Downey had a tougher time explaining a recurring Republican weakness, though: losses of legislative seats in the suburbs.  All the party’s gains but one came from greater Minnesota. “I think in these individual suburban districts, we will look at the individual races and see why it went the way it did,” he said.

But David FitzSimmons, Emmer’s campaign director and a former legislator, offers a different take. He believes the suburban losses have more to do with bigger forces. “It’s a tale of two results,” he said. “They [Republicans] did well connecting with greater Minnesota voters, but you could make the argument it wasn’t so hot with suburban voters.”

It’s part of larger demographic shift that Minnesota Republicans will have to confront, FitzSimmons said. “We’re catching up to the rest of the country in that Republicans dominate outside of the main urban areas,” he said.  “But the urban areas are the ones that are growing so that’s the challenge on the Republican side.”

Rep. Keith Downey
Rep. Keith Downey

In order to do that, though — to tap into that growth, to spread the conservative message, to become a governing force — Republicans must develop the financial infrastructure to match the Democrats, said former GOP party chair Pat Shortridge. In particular, Republicans must create something akin to Alliance for a Better Minnesota, the progressive “outside group” that funnels millions to DFL candidates. “We have now gone three elections cycles with no counter to Alliance for a Better Minnesota, and this is just unforgivable,” Shortridge said.

The right model, he suggests, is the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which attacked Dayton earlier in the year but switched its focus to helping electing the House Republicans. “Outside [conservative] groups have got to follow along the lines of the Jobs Coalition – they have to be more political,” he said. 

Such a group may not be a traditional business coalition, Shortridge added, because “Folks in the business community are worried about access. [Alliance for a Better Minnesota] is not worried about access. They are worried about winning.” 

In separate interviews, Shortridge, FitzSimmons, and Downey all offered somewhat similar prescriptions to the success of Minnesota GOP in future elections:

Shortridge: “We want to govern conservatively so we need a better governing vision.”

FitzSimmons: “The challenge is to make sure their message connects with metro area voters.”

Downey: “The biggest key is to show we represent the interests of Minnesotans.”

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/10/2014 - 08:51 am.

    ‘Strategy’ is another word for Con Job

    This is silly. When it breaks their way – its self-declared brilliance…

    When you outspend your opponent, its supposed to be a good thing.
    If they outspend you – you call them on it as though its a bad thing?

    If its a bad thing – then get rid of the horribly named dark money – “Citizen’s United!”

    When sparsely populated outstate districts breaks for the right –
    then its all due to “having the right message” & GOP brilliance. Owning the outcome.

    When the ‘burbs break against them – they will have to investigate why they could not sell it.

    This is a smoke & mirrors sales job being perpetrated by political parties to control the perception of power – to “adjust voter perceptions.”

    Minnesota, whether in metro concentrations or outstate – isn’t that simplistic is it?

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2014 - 09:05 am.

    They still don’t get it

    Republicans seem to think that performance and results are irrelevant. It’s all about money and getting the message out.

    The problem is, occasional electoral victories notwithstanding, that the republican message is bankrupt magical thinking that produces budget crises, government shut downs, and recessions,as well as toxic cultural battles.

    I would say the democrats underplayed their hand, they always do, I know this is the tenth or more time I’ve seen them do it. If democrats hadn’t been so timid about pursuing policies that work, they would have produce better results and had a credible plan to connect rural voters with the economic recovery. For some reason democrats don’t know how to run on success or run towards it. Oh well.

    I don’t think people in Furgus Falls or Hector MN really voted for republicans because of a new office building. I think rural poverty is a huge issue, and it’s growing. Rural voters see prosperity arriving in the cities in a variety of ways and know they’re being left out. The problem is they voted for the guys who believe in trickle down economies and shutting government down, not the guys who like extend government spending and services and reduce disparity.

    Rural voters are unlikely to get any relief from the republicans they just elected. More likely they’ll get gridlock, spending cuts, and maybe even another government shutdown. Which brings us to the future of the republican party. That and toxic culture battles. The only specific agenda I’ve heard from the national republicans so far is that they plan to make abortion illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy. They’re not even promising to repeal Obamacare but they’re going after abortion, and so it goes.

    Unless republicans abandon magical thinking and the policies that flow out of it, i.e. magic markets, magic spending cuts, magic audits, magic “values”, magic tax cuts, magic wealth, magic private sectors, and so on, the future is one of decline.

    At the end of the day the republican message is: “Vote for us because we’ll do nothing and make sure the government does even more nothing.” or “Vote for us because we’ll get out of the way and let someone else solve your problems”. There’s simply no future in that message, with or without money. The successful election cycles like this one will get narrower, and more infrequent.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/10/2014 - 09:19 am.

    GOP Future

    It’s not the GOP delivery that needs to change, it’s the GOP message itself. They work too hard at creating an us vs them mentality rather than finding commonalities we can all get behind. Find a platform that works for all Minnesotans and their message will resonate with the voters. Otherwise they’re destined to capture a small demographic that’s shrinking year by year.

    In the past their message has been heterosexuals vs homosexuals, women vs babies, gun rights vs murders, and so on. Now they’re pitting outstate communities vs the metro area. With the GOP, they’re perpetually working to build a conflict rather than create an environment that’s inclusive and everyone wins.

    In effect, they’re after raw political power, not solutions to the nation’s problems.

    So no, winning the state house was not a sign of a Republican resurgence. If they had won more than one suburban seat, then maybe they could make that claim. But instead they got a lot of outstate seats in their core demographic and failed miserably with independent and liberal voters.

    That’s not a winning strategy.

    The GOP’s large tent has become a small pup tent, which in turn shrinks with each passing year. Like “Star Trek,” it’s time for them to do a reboot and start the franchise over.

  4. Submitted by John Ferman on 11/10/2014 - 11:08 am.

    GOP House Delivers What

    Without the Governor or the Senate, the GOP can not create new law, amend current law, or repeal current law. So what can they do. Answer cut off miney for what they do not like. Don’t like MNSure – so starve it. Don’t like MPCA – slash its budget. Don’t like better pay and conditions for State employees – refuse to pass the State employee bargaining agreements. The list can go on.

    My question – are the populations of the out-state districts the same as those of the urban districts.

  5. Submitted by David Frenkel on 11/10/2014 - 11:15 am.

    Campaign finance laws

    The National GOP are against finance campaign laws then the MN GOP complains they are out spent. Political hypocrisy.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2014 - 11:53 am.

    I don’t think it’s back, because I don’t think it was ever gone.

    The Minnesota GOP had some terribly incompetent people in positions of power, but with the exit of Mssrs Brodkorb and Sutton the party doesn’t have their baggage. That’s the difference.

    Minnesota, like most states, is completely divided between urban leftists and outstate conservatives. The GOP needs to learn how to make the most of the voters it has.

    History has proven that abandoning GOP core conservative values in an attempt to attract liberal leaning voters serves no one.

  7. Submitted by Jeff Germann on 11/10/2014 - 11:58 am.

    As a republican…the thing that the party still doesnt get is..

    that there is an incredibly large base of people who have more conservative fiscal views….but have socially moderate or even (gasp) Liberal views. The way the party went after gay marriage in the previous election was a HUGE mistake. For a party who is supposed to be about smaller government…why make things like gay marriage a political item? Focus on the over spending and other fiscal items and leave religion and other social issues out of it. Even democrats get that as a country we cant continue to spend our way out of debt. But I think a lot of people, particularly young voters, don’t want the conservative bent on social issues. As a suburbanite…I think a lot of people around me feel the same way.

    As for this year, we had an incredibly weak Governor who the republicans should have easily been able to beat. But it took them forever to get Jeff Johnsons name out there. Too little too late. As for McFadden, the 97% voting with Obama issue was a non starter. Say it..but then get onto what McFadden can do to change things. It was the wrong message for far too long.

    • Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 11/10/2014 - 03:29 pm.

      Re: “an incredibly weak Governor who the republicans should have easily been able to beat.”

      Which other MN politicians have won 4 statewide races?

  8. Submitted by David Broden on 11/10/2014 - 12:07 pm.

    The MN GOP Can Be Back if It Connects to Minnesota Citizens

    The MN GOP can be back if it considers seriously connecting to the interests and vision of the citizens of MN. Most people will agree on the following: 10 Mn has a large independent voting percentage- either party need to appeal to this group to get 50% +1; 2) Mn citizens are not anti-government but want real value from government and good quality programs– the GOP had a history of innovation and new approaches for years- return to this approach will be key; 3) Mn does not like the work conservative— lets be realistic Mn GOP for the most part are moderates- lets act that way and propose programs of that type. Add to that the fact that the MN GOP had no message, no vision, only simplicity of government and criticism/attach ads. To attract voter particularly the independents the GOP must give the voter a reason to vote FOR not just vote AGAINST. Bottom line while demographics and campaign media have evolved the core MN values across all groups remains similar to the days when GOP won state wide– Focus first on GOOD GOVERNMENT– avoid attacks and be for something the citizens will connect with and finally include citizens in the ads and other communiation of GOP vision– not the lone candidate only- a vision of connecting to value issue and topics core to MN values will win and ensure GOP wins a share of leadership.

    Dave Broden

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/10/2014 - 12:37 pm.


    The truth is, the republican party is the party of self-reliant, married white people. Everyone else votes democrat because they want something from government.

    Most of rural America consists of self-reliant, married white people who vote republican and most cities consist of dependent single people and minorities who vote democrat. Mystery solved.

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/10/2014 - 01:35 pm.

      This one made me chuckle

      Republicans don’t want anything from government.
      No. Nay. Never. (wink, wink)

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/10/2014 - 01:51 pm.

      Last time I checked …

      Aitkin County had the highest rate of people living on welfare among all Minnesota counties.

      White, rural, Aitkin County.

      But that doesn’t fit the Welfare Queen script, does it?

      • Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/12/2014 - 06:45 am.

        “Self-reliant” is how all sorts of people justify themselves

        I’m pretty sure we can conclude that the most unsavory segments of society;
        Wall Streeters, thieves & sociopaths too – all define themselves variously as “self-reliant.”

        That is not an indictment of all per se. Self-reliant is often a good thing.
        The term is something to wonder about when “self-reliant” is used cavalierly, though –
        to define most people as “not us.”

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/10/2014 - 02:30 pm.

      White people married, regardless of their sexual preference?

      Wow Tester – some progress for you. But only white people can be self-reliant enough for the Republican Party? A racial slur to guarantee a smaller tent every year? How does Sutton fit in? Those rural MN self-reliant, married white people (straight or gay, of course) will be more believable when they refuse to accept aid to local govts, a purely socialist redistribution of wealth program that keeps the rural cities alive.

    • Submitted by Elsa Mack on 11/10/2014 - 06:50 pm.


      So, all non-white, non-married, and urban people want something from government?

      Whereas farmers don’t want or subsidies? Married people don’t want their marriage credit? Oh, and I thought the rural people wanted more roads and bridges. But they’re so self-reliant, why aren’t they out building it for themselves?

  10. Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 11/10/2014 - 01:29 pm.

    Dennis has jumped the shark again

    I am single, but not dependent on government except: I want good public education, good roads and transit, a state workforce that is competent, and clean air & water.

    I depend on the DFL to deliver those. The GOP is basically penny-wise and pound foolish.

  11. Submitted by Don Evanson on 11/10/2014 - 01:42 pm.

    The selected interviewees.

    It seems to me that the take-away of the interviews would have been more insightful if Tony Sutton had been included.

  12. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/10/2014 - 01:49 pm.

    low turnout

    Typically low turnout benefits repubs & hurts dems. If the repubs couldn’t win a statewide election during the midterms with a historically low turnout, it’s hard to see how this bodes will for future elections. The next one will be for POTUS, without an incumbent. If I had to guess, it looks like a potential wave year for the DFL.

  13. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 11/10/2014 - 06:11 pm.

    Easy pattern to interpret

    There has been a very easy pattern over the last several elections in Minnesota – low voter turnout in non-Presidential elections have seen the GOP take control of the Minnesota House, the DFL has taken control in high voter turnout Presidential year elections. This isn’t a difficult pattern to interpret – especially in light of the failure of the GOP to win any statewide election during that same period of time.

  14. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 11/10/2014 - 06:13 pm.

    The issue for the DFL

    remains how to drive better voter turnout in non-Presidential election years. The GOP “message” wasn’t the issue – the failure of people to turnout at the polls was the issue.

  15. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/10/2014 - 07:53 pm.


    …to Tim Walker.

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