On Saturday, party activists elected Keith Downey, a strategy and technology consultant and former state representative, to lead them to 2014 election victory.
He won an overwhelming, first ballot victory out of four candidates running.
Downey takes the helm of a party that is still vacillating between hope and despair and that has little time to recover before it faces voters again. His job is to unite them and bring them back into power.
“I’m pretty done with the word ‘factions.’ I’m not real into hyphenated Americans. And I’m not really into hyphenated Republicans,” Downey told the 500 activists gathered in a Bloomington hotel convention room. “What is the last thing that Democrats really really fear? It’s a united Republican party speaking the truth and getting out in front of the people of Minnesota. And that’s what we are going to do.”
The task ahead is formidable: The Republican Party of Minnesota has yet to regain its top donors. The last election cost it every leadership post in state government, including majority control of the House and Senate. By Republicans’ own admission, Democrats have outgunned them on technology and independent spending.
On the upside: The party has stabilized its finances over last year, is working to regain donors’ trust and next faces a midterm election, which often benefits the party out of power. It still owes about $1.7 million and has to pay out at least $30,000 a month just to service its debt, but unlike two years ago, it has a payment plan set up with those it owes, said party treasurer Bron Scherer.
“We cleared away a lot of unpleasant underbrush. We reformed and restructured,” said outgoing chair Pat Shortridge, who took over leadership party after the former chairman abruptly quit in late 2011.
Downey ran against Ron Paul supporter Bill Paulsen; activist Bonn Clayton and activist Don Allen.
Downey told officials he would like a salary of $50,000 with incentives of $25,000. All the other candidates also said they would have taken a salary.
DFL Chair Ken Martin wished Downey well.
“While there are great ideological differences between our two respective parties, I believe it is vitally important for democracy’s sake to have vibrant, active political organizations which represent the values of each respective party,” he said in a prepared statement.
Republican activists also elected Kelly Fenton to another term as duputy chair and Chris Fields, who ran against U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison last year, as their secretary.