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Game-changing strategy for GOP: Run a woman for governor

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
There is a growing recognition that 2014 would be the right time to send a woman to the Governor's Mansion.

There are rumblings in the Republican Party that it may be time for a conservative woman to run for governor.

It’s no coincidence that the discussions are taking place as Republicans cast about to redefine their image after losses in the 2012 elections.

Among those speculating about the possibility of a Republican woman at the top of the ticket is Jennifer DeJournett, director of Voices for Conservative Women. It’s a real possibility, she says, because “there will be a primary. So the question is: What would it take to get someone through a primary?”

Voices for Conservative Women has been successfully fielding conservative female candidates for legislative and local offices but has not been involved in a gubernatorial race. The governor’s office has eluded women from both parties in Minnesota, although women have held other statewide posts, including auditor, attorney general and secretary of state.  

The closest a woman has come to becoming governor was in the DFL primary season in 2010. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, then speaker of the Minnesota House, lost the primary by 1 percentage point to Mark Dayton, who went on to defeat Republican Tom Emmer and independent Tom Horner. 

Kelliher’s strong showing came in large part because of support from Women Winning, a 30-year-old bipartisan organization that endorses pro-choice women running for office.

Building coalitions

Lauren Beecham, executive director of Women Winning, says the group’s strong suit is building coalitions, which she says comes naturally to a female candidate. “You’re dealing with someone who comes with an extensive network,” she says. “We help them piece this together. The way you win is by being very involved with others.”

DeJournett envies the network that Women Winning has created. “When Women Winning went all in for Margaret, they really felt like they were backing a winner,” she says.  “Why wouldn’t Republican women do the same [with a candidate for governor]?”

If such a group gets formally organized with the goal of finding and then promoting a woman for governor, DeJournett would certainly play a major role.  Other notable conservative women who would likely join the effort include former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, state Sen. Julianne Ortman, state GOP Deputy Chair Party Kelly Fenton and former legislator Laura Brod, who voiced interest in running for governor in 2009 and has left open the possibility of making a future run.

Developing a pipeline of candidates is key to electing women, says Beecham, who adds that’s what Women Winning does best. “We look for opportunities in identifying strong community leaders who are passionate about prioritizing women and their families, and then prepare women for statewide office,” she says. “When women run for office, women win. But the problem is that women aren’t running at the same rate as men.”

No announced candidates

That rate is even lower in the Republican field. Not only is there no announced Republican woman running for governor, the rumor mill has churned out only male possibilities, including state Sen. David Hann, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Emmer. 

Jennifer DeJournett
Courtesy of Jennifer DeJournett
Jennifer DeJournett

That’s why Republicans will need to create a group with the force, commitment, and tentacles of liberal women’s groups.  Like Women Winning, this organization must reassure a candidate that if she undertakes the journey to run for the state’s highest office, she will have other women behind her.

“I think women want to know if they are going to take a leap, there will be a support group,” says DeJournett, who has heard the concerns of legislative and local candidates. “‘Am I qualified? What’s going to happen to my business? Can my family handle this? Can I make a successful argument to the voter?’ Women want to figure that out before they start a campaign.”

Although there is no formal organization – yet – to draft a Republican woman for governor, there is a growing recognition that 2014 would be the right time to make such a launch. Facing a relatively popular incumbent governor, Republicans will need to move beyond the usual suspects. And given the incumbencies of Dayton and 2014’s other big DFL name, Al Franken, Republicans would stand alone with a major female candidate.

As Republicans look for a game-changing political strategy, a woman at the top of ticket guarantees voters would take a second look at the party and its message.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/07/2013 - 10:28 am.

    A female Governor

    …is a great idea. Unfortunately, it’s an idea that doesn’t fit the current Republican Party.

    Given current Republican ideology and conduct – as exemplified in several Congressional hearings last year, not to mention comments from House and Senate candidates in Missouri and Ohio – the very idea of a Republican organization “…identifying strong community leaders who are passionate about prioritizing women and their families…” strikes me as an exercise in the oxymoronic.

    The “female” part and the “strong community leaders” part might be manageable, but everything I’ve seen and read since moving to Minnesota 3-1/2 years ago suggests that Minnesota Republicans are passionate about prioritizing only a very narrow and limited sort of family, and in many areas of public policy, party doctrine absolutely works against the interests of women. Social and economic programs, for example, that aid battered women, divorcees, single mothers, etc., have typically been among the first put on the Republican budgetary chopping block when the phrase “reduced spending” is used on Republican conversation.

    The concept of a statewide Republican candidate prioritizing women and their families flies in the face of the 6th District sending Michele Bachmann back to Congress for a 3rd term. In order to garner enough statewide support to win a gubernatorial contest, a female GOP candidate would essentially have to stop being a Republican. Who knows? That might be a successful strategy, but it’s not one that fits the current, and increasingly-frayed, Republican playbook.

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/07/2013 - 11:49 am.

    You don’t order a governor at the store

    Where are you going to find one?

    First, let me say, I don’t care what gender the governor is. I backed Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the primary because I thought she was the one who knew the most about governing Minnesota. I realize there are fewer women legislators than men legislators, but personally I like to think that I’ve moved beyond gender balance to a post-feminism belief that of course women can do everything a man can do. So let’s elect the best person.

    But in the Republican Party, I’m just not seeing anyone who has the experience to run much of anything. Personally I think Haan and Daudt are marginally ready to lead their caucuses. Amy Koch might have been ready except for a poor personal decision, which makes it nearly impossible for her to be the candidate.

    Michele Bachmann couldn’t win a statewide race against a dead Democrat. People in Minneapolis and St. Paul would stand for hours in a raging blizzard to vote against her. And considering how little time and effort she has put forth toward being a government representative I can’t even imagine what would happen to the governor’s office if the state’s top executive was running off to Texas all the time for another speaking engagement to for the Texans for Succession or to Virginia for the People Who Hate Government association.

    The problem is: you have to believe government has a legitimate role to be governor. You might be able to be a legislator or congressperson who makes a career out of voting against everything. But when you’re governor you have to run the very government that so many Republicans absolutely hate.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/07/2013 - 05:04 pm.

      Best person

      Exactly. The wrong person who happens to have a uterus will not get my vote any more than if they hosted a Y chromosome. It’s not about putting a minority out there, it’s about putting a credible and intelligent leader out there (hence the Chris “blacker than Ellison” Fields loss). The GOP, both national and state, has been busy kicking out the credible and intelligent leaders–forcing former governors and congresscritters out because *gasp* they stand for something closer to the middle instead of far right ideals. I couldn’t believe that ANY GOP candidate would fit my criteria of credible and intelligent right now.

  3. Submitted by Tom Knisely on 01/07/2013 - 12:09 pm.

    Conservative Woman For Governor

    Anoka County Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah would be outstanding. She is my first choice of all Conservative candidate possibilities regardless of gender.

  4. Submitted by John Rollings on 01/07/2013 - 12:17 pm.


    Another article fresh off the Republican PR machine.

  5. Submitted by Steve Roth on 01/07/2013 - 01:52 pm.

    “Game changer?”

    Only for the folks who remain stuck in the GOP media bubble machine.

    And can you imagine the primary – when a woman’s right to choose and -gasp- use birth control will inevitably be questioned by the teavangelicals? Cue “walking it back” and the inevitable tightrope comparisons.

    Come to think of it, if nothing else, a woman running for the GOP nod will make it that much more entertaining.

  6. Submitted by Barbara Gilbertson on 01/07/2013 - 04:14 pm.

    I would love, love, love…

    …to see Amy Koch run for governor. The Democrats’ dream adversary. Maybe…maybe she could choose Brodkorb as her running mate!

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2013 - 04:46 pm.

    Conspicuous by its absence

    I notice that no one in the article had word one to say about policy. Do the Republicans really think that window-dressing is going to attract female voters (“Sure, they’re a bunch of retrograde fools on the issues, but they’re running one of us for Governor!”)?

  8. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 01/07/2013 - 06:01 pm.

    The answer to this opportunity is for one of the guys to volunteer for gender reassignment. There’s still time.

  9. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 01/07/2013 - 07:33 pm.

    I love how republicans become so intersted in women, minorities, and compromise after getting trounced. Then the memory fades, and it’s back to tax cuts for the rich, laws about people’s sex lives, and a general return to the 1950s.

  10. Submitted by Dave Thul on 01/07/2013 - 09:45 pm.

    Nothing better

    …than seeing a story about conservative women in politics and watching all these liberals come out and comment, “Well of course I support women in politics, but not conservative women’ thus verifying that gender isn’t the issue, ideology is.

    As soon as the DFL starts taking my advice on how to run their party, I will start paying attention to DFL’ers who want to tell the GOP how to run ours.

    • Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/08/2013 - 12:01 pm.

      Why would the DFL want to interfere with the GOP

      The GOP is already doing more damage than we could possibly do for them.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 01/10/2013 - 10:18 am.


      You have more than enough to do to make your party relevant and more moderate. No reason to worry about the DFL.

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/07/2013 - 10:32 pm.

    It would be brilliant political Jiu jitsu on the part of Republicans. The real game changer would be to run a moderate Republican woman.

  12. Submitted by Rich Crose on 01/08/2013 - 08:26 am.

    Stages of Grief

    Denial: This couldn’t have happened to my party.
    Anger: Those terrible Democrats are to blame!
    Bargaining: I’ll do anything if you let me win again.
    Depression: I’m damned to eternal minority status.
    Acceptance: Maybe liberals aren’t so bad after all. Maybe we can get back to governing.

    Republicans are at stage 3: We’ll even endorse a woman!

  13. Submitted by Ann Richards on 01/08/2013 - 07:23 pm.

    Where are the Moderate Repub Women?

    Many are in the DFL and have been for years, starting when abortion became the single issue, than it was guns, then it was NO BAD WARS. It really would not have mattered which issue it was, it was the party seeking purity in thought and the tent got too small for moderates. We were good fund-raisers, good block workers, good organizers. But we were told that we no longer made good convention delegates. I now am interested in the GOP because it doesn’t serve us well to have only one major party. Unfortunately the GOP cannot learn from their mistakes and as shown by the last legislature they can not even lead there. I feel sorry for them, because they could turn the party around, but they just don’t get it.

  14. Submitted by jody rooney on 01/08/2013 - 09:09 pm.

    Mr. Crose that gave me a chuckle

    Frankly I agree find me a moderate in either party and I would be a happy camper.

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