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State’s Republicans face generation gap on presidential candidates

Age, race and gender — the trifecta of immutable biological facts — have, to some degree, become cultural and political divides.

In the presidential race, all of the action on race and gender is on the Democratic side.

So as Minnesota Republicans look ahead to the state’s Feb. 5 Super Duper Tuesday caucuses, the question becomes: Are the GOP presidential campaigns here sorting themselves out by generation?

Maybe.

Certainly Rudy Giuliani’s Minnesota campaign can be characterized by age. GOP senior statesmen George Pillsbury and Wheelock Whitney are major players for Giuliani. However, given that Giuliani, Pillsbury and Whitney all share the moderate social issue/fiscal conservative political ideology, their views no doubt trump age. We used to call these folks Rockefeller Republicans, after the late New York Gov. and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. (And if you still do, you’re dating yourself.)

State’s Reagan Coalition seems to be shrinking
Perhaps more salient in Minnesota GOP politics is what’s happened to the Reagan Coalition, of which the New York Times’ David Brooks recently wrote: “That coalition had its day, but it is shrinking now. The Republican Party is more unpopular than at any point in the past 40 years.”

In Minnesota, the Reagan Coalition probably is shrinking. But for sure, it’s done coalescing: Key Reaganites have picked different presidential horses to ride.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty co-chairs John McCain’s national campaign. Current Republican Party Chair Ron Carey just declared for Mike Huckabee. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, and GOP activist Joe Repya (who lost to Carey in the last state party chair race) are heading up the effort for Fred Thompson. Former congressman Vin Weber and current GOP National Committeeman Jack Meeks are with Mitt Romney.

On the age factor, I checked in with Bethany Dorobiala, current chair of the Minnesota College Republicans. A junior majoring in political science at the University of Minnesota, she got her start in politics as an intern on Republican Michele Bachmann’s successful 2006 congressional campaign.

Young Republicans splintering, but Romney may be strongest
Dorobiala reports that her group’s 7,000-plus members (one of the largest College Republican groups in the country) are all over the map in candidate support and that “only Romney has a strong presence” in Minnesota.

Unlike Carey, she has not signed on with any of the campaigns. “That was his personal decision, as was mine,” she says. That’s a smart woman with a brighter future in GOP circles than Carey. She’s up for re-election March 1 and, so far, is running unopposed.

With Huckabee winning in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire and Romney finishing second in both states, Minnesota now matters, as does Romney’s “strong presence.” Truth be told, that Romney presence is a serious organization put together by Tara Anderson, a third-year student at the University of St. Thomas Law School and no stranger to GOP politics. Anderson worked in 2002 as a field staffer for the state GOP and in 2004 as a co-chair of Students for Bush and as executive director of the College Republicans. Notes Anderson, “I wasn’t active in 2006 because I had just started law school. (That’s another smart woman.)

(For the record, I co-chaired the statewide Young Republicans in 1988, when I was in law school. That group tried to organize the caucuses for Bob Dole, who lost the nomination to the next president, George H.W. Bush.)

Anderson runs two youth groups, Students for Romney and Young Professionals for Romney. The groups helped the Romney campaign recruit supporters last fall, and they have organized on about 15 campuses. Tagg Romney, the oldest of the candidate’s five sons, came to Minnesota specifically to rally the young troops. Some of the Romney students and young professionals took a bus to Iowa where they door-knocked and made phone calls to get out the vote.

“With school starting back up, the focus now will be on getting students to caucuses and supporting the campaign however we can,” says Anderson.

Back to gender. In case you missed it, the old guard of key Reaganites are male. But not the new guard, Dorobiala and Anderson.

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