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State GOP’s Elephant Club looking for a stampede in November

Norm Coleman
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Norm Coleman

The mood at the meeting this past Friday of the Minnesota Republican Party’s Elephant Club was ebullient, to say the least — a reflection of the general euphoria that has animated GOP ranks following a week of astonishing victories.

“This is our time!” former Sen. Norm Coleman told the gathering of more than 100 members, who met for lunch in a small but pleasant salon of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. “In 2008, the people voted for change in Washington, not to change America. And they have driven that point home again.”

The only person to garner a stronger round of applause than Coleman wasn’t even in the room: Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts. The mere mention of his name set off a storm of applause that ended in a standing ovation.

Oh, yes, there was plenty to cheer about, and lots of reasons for Minnesota Republicans to like what they see in a political landscape that in the course of one week had undergone a seismic shift.

First, there was conservative Brown’s come-from-behind triumph in the deepest of deep-blue states. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but admitted that the game was up with the health-care proposal as it now stands, and, finally, the Supreme Court overturned a decades-long law to restore First Amendment rights to corporations and labor unions.

Another Minnesota Massacre
Tony Sutton, the state party chairman, didn’t mince words. “Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for another Minnesota Massacre!” he said.

Tony Sutton
Tony Sutton

You recall that miracle. In 1978, with political the crepe hangers measuring the GOP for interment in the wake of Watergate scandal and the election of the Carter-Mondale ticket, Minnesota Republicans not only recaptured the governor’s office, but elected two U.S. senators and nearly doubled their number in the state Legislature, winning a stunning 37 seats.

Sutton, a gregarious, witty speaker whose facial expressions bear more than a passing resemblance to the NFL commentator Frank Caliendo, said that today the party has mustered a robust list of “exceptional” candidates for the Legislature in anticipation of another sweep, and he said the state GOP is also setting its sites on two congressional seats.

“Tim Walz is practically talking himself out of his House seat,” he said, referring to the First District representative’s insistence on pressing the mortally wounded Democratic agenda in Congress, including passing the health-care legislation that the congressional leadership has all but abandoned. “This from the guy who represents the Mayo Clinic!

“The district has been Republican since statehood,” Sutton said, “and it’s time we brought the voters home again.”

The state party also is gearing up for a major drive to wrest Collin Peterson’s seat from the Democrats, with, Sutton said, a media campaign designed to appeal to the innate conservatism of the Seventh District’s voters.

“This is our time!” said Coleman, who was the keynote speaker. “We have to seize it.

“The voters are concerned about jobs, jobs, jobs!” he said, “not more taxes and larger government bureaucracies. Americans aren’t anti-government, they just want a government that works.”

Turning to President Obama’s dwindling approval ratings, Coleman declared that “Obama is a movement liberal, though he ran as a centrist.” He skewered the president for turning his back on promises to impose openness in government and seek consensus in governing, saying Republicans must appeal to what Coleman described as the broad center-right coalition in public life.

“The center-right is defined by traditionally conservative values that are enduring — limited government, lower taxes, strong defense. In espousing our views, we must be moderate in tone, but bold in vision.”

‘Cornhusker Kickback’
Coleman reminded his listeners that Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat, is bowing out and that Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is facing a tough uphill fight for re-election.

“Harry Reid is going down!” Coleman said to enthusiastic applause.

“The people have had enough of backroom deals and party payoffs,” he said, referring to the “Cornhusker Kickback” to Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and the equally shameful “Louisiana Purchase” of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s vote on health care.

 Those two deals were expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, but they almost certainly were casualties of the Brown victory — whether Nelson and Landrieu will survive is a story for another day.

Coleman also played up an issue that resonated strongly with voters in Massachusetts, by attacking the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and others terrorism suspects in civilian criminal court rather than before military tribunals.

He reiterated Brown’s words in Massachusetts: “As an attorney, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation; they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”

This was red meat to the staunchly conservative audience, and they ate it up.

In case you’re wondering, the Elephant Club is composed of more than 100 members who meet periodically, generally for lunch, to hear elected officials and GOP leaders on various topics. The annual dues are hefty: $1,000. But one gets the impression from the membership that it’s A) small change, and B) worth every penny.

Networking is the name of the game, and over an arrangement of rather good hors d’oeuvres, iced tea and coffee prior to the luncheon, members renew acquaintances, find out who’s doing what, and talk about the merits of different candidates. The buzz continues long after the proceedings have officially ended.

The well-dressed, successful membership runs the gamut from entrepreneurs to some of the most famous names in Twins Cities business, with a large contingent of doctors, lawyers, financial planners and other professionals. Twenty- and thirtysomethings abound, providing an enthusiastic counterpoint to the silver-haired party lions who predominate.

Me? I could barely afford the tab at the parking garage across the street from the Hilton. I was a guest.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/25/2010 - 11:42 am.

    First, predicting the outcome of an election 10 months away is pure folly.

    And if this is group of such famous and upstanding, why don’t you name them all. Democrats don’t hide their membership, even if we don’t have exclusive clubs of “well-dressed” members.

    The author has the same starry-eyed fascination with rich and powerful people that Ronald Reagan had – never met a rich person he didn’t like.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 01/25/2010 - 11:55 am.

    The author *could* be correct, but as Jeremy points out, 10 months from Election Day is an eternity in politics.

    Ask Jon Grunseth.

  3. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 01/25/2010 - 12:13 pm.

    It’s good to see that Norm is trying to reach beyond the rich and powerful and out to the populace with his quote from “The Goonies”. Somebody in that group needs to do it if the Republicans think they’re going to have another Minnesota Massacre. But I seriously doubt they can quit their inter-party squabbles long enough or pull in enough of Norm’s center-right group (who a great majority of Minnesota Republicans seem to want nothing to do with) to pull off too many wins.

  4. Submitted by John N. Finn on 01/25/2010 - 12:45 pm.

    I’m wondering to what extent corporations will now fund media campaigns for or against particular candidates. Here in Minnesota’s First District we have a corporation whose board of directors, maybe the majority of them, individually contribute to Republican candidates. I suppose that’s typical of many corporations, hence something for the Club to cheer about.

    So, would the the company I have in mind actually decide to prevent Tim Walz’s re-election? It certainly has virtually unlimited resources it could bring to bear on whatever last minute attack ads (allowed now, as I understand it) that would be necessary. While its Chairman praised the Court’s ruling, he hesitated to commit his company to becoming politically active citing what shareholder’s concerns might be. I’d think employee moral could be an issue too, since it’s conceivable that some could still be Democrats.

  5. Submitted by Theo Kozel on 01/25/2010 - 01:51 pm.

    Did they purposely avoid discussing the fact that all the demographic groups that form the Republican base is in long term decline, whereas the opposite is true for the Democratic base? Would that, perhaps, cast a pall over this gathering of elephant testosterone and underscore that whereas they may be on the verge of a victorious battle they are facing terminal long-term decline? Would pondering whether triumphalism and overreach might in fact exacerbate this decline put something of a check on the much-needed elation of a party recuperating from an electoral defeat of historic proportions? And finally, was there even a peep about the fact that the Democrats are by several measures in equal or significantly better financial condition than the Republicans? To wit, was the talk more about emotion and energy than reality?

    Oh, I’ll stop being mean: congratulations on the superb political climate 10 months before the midterms. While you’re prognosticating, could you please tell me the gender of my first great-great-great grandchild?

  6. Submitted by jim hughes on 01/25/2010 - 02:46 pm.

    Like many people, I hung up on the Republicans a long time ago. They can call me back when they’ve decided to stop being the “anti-science” party.

  7. Submitted by Dave Thul on 01/26/2010 - 09:00 am.

    I would be more interested in the influence amongst their peers that this Elephant Club has, rather than the size of their wallets.

    The Republican Party that is getting mobilized for this November is the grass roots tea party crowd, sick and tired of politicians on both sides that spend too much and look down their noses at the voters.

    Besides which, the party that looks to be vulnerable to internal squabbles this year is the DFL. Still almost a dozen candidates for governor, 4 or 5 of whom will not abide by the endorsement process (or even participate). Worse yet, several of those candidates are high profile state legislators, meaning their actions during the upcoming session represent their best chance to get free publicity and momentum.
    Circus, anyone?

  8. Submitted by John Olson on 01/26/2010 - 09:33 am.

    “The Republican Party that is getting mobilized for this November is the grass roots tea party crowd, sick and tired of politicians on both sides that spend too much and look down their noses at the voters.”

    Psst: It’s a repackaging of the same pols on the right that are trying to sell themselves as something “new and different” to the tea party crowd.

    None of them are “new” or “different.”

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/26/2010 - 11:12 am.

    Yes, we voted for change, but got too little of it and need to work harder to get it. Why would anyone choose to vote for right-wing candidates instead of pushing the Dems and Independents in Congress to STAND UP and give us a health care plan that benefits every American instead of the insurance and drug corporations?

    Our greatest national sickness is the power given to corporations by the phony designation of “personhood.” And now, with the corporate-friendly vote of the Bush/Roberts court, things will only get worse.

    Our second greatest sickness is called market fundamentalism, the fiction that unregulated capitalism can do everything and anything better than our employees in government.

  10. Submitted by John N. Finn on 01/26/2010 - 04:05 pm.

    Well, maybe another time for discussing how corporations purchasing media coverage for or against candidates might play out. Just Republican bashing here now, not that it’s necessarily uncalled for, you know.

    What’s not clear to me is whether corporations would be able to avoid being identified with smear campaigns, if in fact they would do that. Bad public relations for high profile companies that deal with a broad cross section of the general public?

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