The libertarian wing of the Minnesota GOP is stirring the political pot again, with two candidates challenging Keith Downey for party chair in an election that will be decided at the state central committee meeting on Saturday.
Neil Lynch, chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, said he’s taking on Downey because, “Our party has been in decline for some time. Voters — especially younger voters — aren’t buying our message anymore, and many longtime donors have stopped supporting us.”
Bill Jungbauer, who until recently was chair of the GOP’s Second Congressional District, says he too will appeal to the party’s need to attract younger voters who want to hear the libertarian message of small government, debt reduction, and limits on social policies.
In the past, Republican delegates with libertarian leanings have won victories in such intra-party battles. In 2012, for example, libertarians exerted enough force to push Kurt Bills, a schoolteacher with limited political experience, into a race against U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Bills went on to be crushed by Klobuchar in the general election that November.
That same year, activists from the libertarian wing sent delegates to the Republican National Convention to vote for Ron Paul instead of nominee Mitt Romney.
In 2014, libertarian delegates to the state convention backed St. Louis County commissioner Chris Dahlberg for U.S. Senate until the bitter end of a nomination battle that Dahlberg eventually conceded to Mike McFadden.
Like their national counterparts, Minnesota’s libertarian-leaning GOPers are a motley group. Some are passionate about limited foreign policy, a flat tax and rigid fiscal conservatism. A few are basically Republican moderates who advocate limited government but who believe social issues like gay rights and abortion do not belong in political debate.
For the traditional party activists, Republican libertarians are, at their core, contrarians. Both Jungbauer and Lynch talk about giving their party “alternatives” to the current leadership structure. Both express frustration with party’s continued debt.
And while it’s unclear whether either man can deny Downey a second term as party chair, it is clear that the libertarian wing of the party intends to play a role in how the party moves forward.