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Battle over state GOP leadership is a fight to shape the party

Keith Downey
Keith Downey

Four months after the November elections, Minnesota Republican activists and leaders are no closer to identifying a strategy to turn around the party’s fortunes, but they are nearer to choosing a new party chair — the person who may determine if the party has a future.

From a one-time field of six candidates who wanted to replace Chair Pat Shortridge, the list has distilled to two front runners: former state Rep. Keith Downey from Edina and Bill Paulsen, a Ron Paul supporter from Rice County who was a delegate to last year’s national Republican convention. Bonn Clayton from Carver County and Don Allen from Minneapolis have also mounted campaigns.

The party’s grass-roots political groups known as BPOUs (basic political organizing units) have concluded their local conventions and selected the roughly 340 delegates to the Republican Party’s State Central Committee, which meets April 6 to elect the new chair.

The meeting has the earmarks of another showdown between the party’s “liberty” or libertarian wing and traditional activists, many of whom are staunch social conservatives.

But there are also indications that the factions that formed after the party revealed its $2 million debt two years ago are ready for a pragmatic approach to ensure that Republicans have a hand to play in the 2014 elections. The positioning of Downey and Paulsen, both of whom are running credible statewide campaigns, shows them playing toward a middle.

“They are concerned about the party finances, can the party win elections, and concerns that we have a grass roots party,” said Paulsen of the delegates he has met around the state.

Grass roots and states’ rights

Paulsen pitches directly to the Ron Paul activists who support him. Grass roots and states’ rights are the first points he makes on his campaign website. Paulsen says he and his supporters fear the party will abandon its current caucus system and go to a primary system for electing Republican nominees.

Bill Paulsen
Bill Paulsen

Downey carries his plan for the party on his iPad. He calls for redesign of the state party operations and improving fundraising and messaging. New coalitions are important for Downey, who supports moving state primary elections to June.

“I think people are ready to put November behind them and look forward,” Downey said of last year’s election drubbing of GOP candidates in Minnesota. “People are ready to believe in the party again and have confidence in what we stand for.”

When delegates meet on April 6, Paulsen will have an edge if Ron Paul activists made good on their promise to participate in local caucuses. Still, Downey’s strength is outstate and, as a supporter of Kurt Bills’ U.S. Senate candidacy, he does have some support in the liberty wing of the party.

Pat Anderson doesn’t want the job

Pat Anderson , former Republican national committeewoman and former state auditor, wonders why anyone would even want the job. “The party chair’s job is going to be all about raising money,” she said. “And that assumes the party is still functioning.”

Anderson’s name continues to bob up as a possible candidate for the post.  In the conspiracy-theory world of inside political players, some activists suggest Paulsen is a stalking horse who will drop out if Anderson agrees to step in.

Anderson laid the theory to rest. “Zero chance,” she said. “I’ve said no to everybody.”

The fundraising task that Anderson deems nearly insurmountable doesn’t appear to daunt Paulsen or Downey.

“The situation doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Paulsen said. “We have other states that faced this and have been able to turn the situation around.”

And even though their party earned headlines like “The disastrous Minnesota GOP” in Politico and “Minnesota GOP even worse than we thought” from the Daily Kos, Paulsen and Downey say they believe their own brand of leadership will lead to a turnaround.

According to Downey, “There isn’t a single political entity that doesn’t have to reinvent itself.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/27/2013 - 10:15 am.

    The best outcome for the Democrats will be the conversion of the Republican party into a cult of personality based upon the idea of propelling the 77 year-old Ron Paul into the presidency.

    The essentially anarchic message of the right-wing and of the Paulites make it very unlikely that the financial troubles will be effectively addressed.

  2. Submitted by David Broden on 02/27/2013 - 11:29 am.

    Mn GOP Must Apply “Disruptive Technology” Approach for Rebirth

    The MN GOP future must be aggressively dynamic in its approach to change and move again into a leadership and majority position in Minnesota or concede to be a minority but an ideological voice. The Mn GOP has had a strong moderate/progressive visionary element that placed “Good Government” ahead of “Good Politics”–and if you do the first then the second happens because citizens get the message. The party leader choices do not get the message – the party leaders and others continue to see to control via political power rather than good government actions. The solution must be much more dynamic than what is being discussed– the GOP and perhap the DFL need to “open up to the citizen input to capture ideas and vision of the public’–ideology must be set aside- let various views be heard and included but not dominate. This can only be done by changing the way parties select candidates and involve ciitizens- disruptive technology application enabliing a full open primary (yes I mean full that is all candidates in a pool and the top two are selected for the general election. No more power ideolgy candidates. Party caucuses can do mulltiple or single endorsement and outline platforms etc. to maintain a party structure. Since the party will be unlikely to do this the legislature should proceed to move the primary to June and make it fully open- with that parties willl begin to be responsive to the total citizens population.This approach may be a bit unpopular but it will be better that the party of NO system we have today.
    Dave Broden

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 02/27/2013 - 03:35 pm.

    Where is the Citizen Dialogue re A New Minnesota GOP?

    The Mn Post article above sends a very strong and clear message the the Mn GOP is about to make a leadership decision that will shape the direction, public image, acceptance, and purpose of the the GOP for years ahead.Many of us expected that the article would stir up dialogue that would encourage citizen debate regarding the lack of real visionary and charge driver leaders as candidates for the party chair. Perhaps Mn citizens realize that the Mn GOP is largely populated by remnants of the Luddites and their ideology brethern rather than real renassiance leaders who see challenges as opportunities and will seek to move out of standard comfort zones in distruptive technology and approach visionarly activity. I am there are others interested — let the ciizen desire for a strong visionary multi–party system in Mn be expressed and discusssed. This is issue for all the public not just the narrow GOP base of today.

    Dave Broden

  4. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 02/27/2013 - 08:34 pm.

    Current caucus system

    Isn’t unusual that the party who says they are the party of the people, don’t want to let people vote for the candidates. You would think they would realize that is why they are becoming irrelevant. This last election they forced me to vote mostly Democrat, with stupid social issues and then trying to stop people from voting with another great GOP idea. Most of them don’t have clue. That is what happens when you don’t talk to real people.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/28/2013 - 09:25 am.

    GOP and the Titanic

    Any changes made by the GOP will have the same effect as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They will play word games, semantic changes, to make you think they have made changes, but in reality there won’t be any real changes. Their war on women, minorities, and common sense will continue. The fractured zealot leadership will continue. Because they are lost in the political wilderness the only way they will be able to protect themselves is by intransigence and the continued use of the word NO. Lack of compromise will continue. It will be interesting to see if they are willing to lose another election due to their inability to make meaningful changes.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/28/2013 - 11:03 am.

    Some choice

    Both of these guys will the Republicans further down into the rabbit hole. It’s disappointing.

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