Like the national party, Minnesota Republicans face key challenges

Ron Carey
Minnesota GOP Chair Ron Carey

Newly elected Republican Party Chair Michael Steele inherited a national party with significant challenges. After winning a hotly contested battle for chair, Steele has encountered other dust-ups that have party insiders wondering if he is their chair for the long-term.  In Minnesota, the GOP is at a turning point as well.

Similar to the national party, the state GOP has had two very tough elections in a row, losing legislative seats and control of the state House, getting crushed in the 2006 Senate election and likely losing Norm Coleman as a senator in 2008. Now the party faces a change in power at a time when it’s at the mercy of decisions in the coming months by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. 

The race to replace outgoing party Chair Ron Carey may not be that competitive on paper, but the whispers from GOPers that are beginning to cause the most stress among Republicans center on this question:  What’s Pawlenty going to do?  That’s likely what Tony Sutton, the leading candidate for GOP chair, is wondering as well.

The future of Pawlenty’s political career rests on his decision of whether to run for re-election in 2010.  If he wins, he’s set for 2012 or 2016 — if he loses, it’s all over.

Race for vice chair
Sutton is a respected businessman, former party executive director and at his core a political operative. In the race for vice chair, you have incumbent Dorothy Fleming, who has strong ties to the social conservatives in the party, facing GOP operative and “exposing” blogger at Minnesota Democrats Exposed Michael Brodkorb.

For Sutton the challenge will be to reshape the party and gain traction on issues that are  bigger than Pawlenty. But for voters, it will be all about Pawlenty and what he does.

If Pawlenty chooses not to run, the list of potential Republicans candidates would be long. They include:  former Rep. Jim Ramstad, businessman and GOP national committeeman Brian Sullivan (whom Pawlenty beat in the endorsement battle in 2002), state Rep. Laura Brod, Minnesota Business Partnership head Charlie Weaver and Rep. Michele Bachmann. Sutton would have to navigate a potentially divisive endorsement fight or primary.

If Pawlenty does run, the campaign will be a clear-cut referendum on his eight years as governor.  And despite a crowded DFL field and a potentially competitive DFL primary, after eight years the question voters will be asking is: Pawlenty or no Pawlenty?  That will be a tough environment for GOPers to pick up seats in the House or the Senate.

In 2012, Republicans will face their first election after re-districting (which DFLers could control if they win the governor’s race), likely running against an incumbent president named Obama and a very popular, and likely to be very safe, Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Legislative races
In the Legislature, where Brodkorb is the Senate GOP communications director, picking up seats may also be a challenge.  The Senate GOP has struggled for years to gain ground on the DFL. In the House, Minority Leader Marty Seifert faced an internal challenge after the 2008 elections and has hinted that he may not run for re-election in 2010, which could leave a leadership void for fundraising and candidate recruitment.

For Sutton, or whoever the GOP chooses in June, the task will seem daunting and the possibility for division within the party is strong. Sutton is thought of as a conservative, but not as vested in social issues as most of the rank-in-file within the party operation.

Fundraising is something that Sutton will bring to the forefront — his business partner in Baja Sol restaurants is TCF chairman and former GOP Party Chair Bill Cooper.  Sutton will likely re-attract donors to the party who left during the Ron Carey years. Sutton will also have to convince social conservatives that he will stay true to their cause. The chair Carey replaced, Ron Ebensteiner, was removed when he strayed on key issues.

And if Brodkorb defeats Fleming, the party will be run by two of the best operatives that the GOP in Minnesota has known in some time.  Extremely nimble operatives they will have to be in 2010 because, like the national party, Minnesota’s GOP doesn’t have a lot going for it these days.  And the one thing it does — Pawlenty — may not be there in 2010.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 03/20/2009 - 10:49 am.

    “And if Brodkorb defeats Fleming, the party will be run by two of the best operatives that the GOP in Minnesota has known in some time.”

    Sounds like you and Mike have buried the hatchet, Blois.

  2. Submitted by Gary Gross on 03/20/2009 - 05:32 pm.

    With the Obama administration showing their incompetence on economic matters & with the House DFL majority raising taxes on small businesses, & especially with a huge anti-irresponsible government wave building, I think your opinion isn’t worth much.

    I’d further suggest that the DFL will find out what it’s like to run with a president whose job approval rating likely will be in the low 40s is like.

    The DFL’s Cherrypicked Testimony Tour resulted in them proposing a budget that couldn’t be worse if they tried.

    Further complicating things for this prediction is the intelligent, appealing alternatives that the US House GOP leadership is putting together. The House GOP caucus in St. Paul has a record to tout, too, one that isn’t radical like Speaker Kelliher’s & Sen. Pogemiller’s is. The House GOP can point to specific reforms that they’ve proposed. When they do that, the DFL candidate can either say ‘I agree with the GOP’ or that candidate will be put on the defensive for supporting the DFL’s status quo leadership when common sense new ideas were needed.

    Good luck with that task.

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/21/2009 - 04:54 pm.

    Gary Gross: The Obama administration is a couple of months old. To criticize them for not SOLVING a problem that took over a decade to create is pretty unfair.

    Re: Tax increase on small business. ONE MORE TIME: There will be tax increases for individuals who make more than $200,000 per year and couples more than $250,000, NOT on small businesses that with gross sales or gross profits of those amounts. The only small business owners who will pay higher taxes are those whose take-home profits after meeting all expenses are $200,000 or $250,000.

    “Intelligent and appealing” GOP alternatives to Dem proposals? That is definitely a matter of opinion and I’m sure you have noticed that the governor’s opinion about tax pledges is becoming less popularly accepted.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/22/2009 - 07:03 pm.

    Gary — great satire!
    I really appreciate the line about “the intelligent, appealing alternatives that the US House GOP leadership is putting together”.
    All you left out is “positive”.

  5. Submitted by Danny McConnell on 04/22/2009 - 07:40 pm.

    Bernice, I respect your opinion, but I do want to point you to the Strib breakdowns of the current proposals:

    There are tax income tax increases across the board as well as an increase in alcohol and tobacco taxes.

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