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

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.

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.