Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan is running for re-election, a fresh test of her alliances with party leaders still stinging from a string of bruising defeats in November.
Carnahan will ask party activists to give her another two years after a 2018 election in which Republicans lost every statewide race and the Minnesota House. The GOP fought to a draw in congressional races, losing two in the suburbs but picking up two in outstate Minnesota, in the face of the U.S. House GOP’s worst defeat since Watergate.
Referring to strong ties she’s forged with national Republicans, Carnahan said, “If we had a different chair who didn’t work with [the Republican National Committee] and the White House, we could be down to only [U.S. Rep.] Tom Emmer, but we’re not.” Southern and northeastern Minnesota, where Republicans Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber flipped districts from blue to red, were rare bright spots for Republicans around the country.
The Minnesota Republican Party has been dealing with long-term debt since an expensive debacle involving the recount after the 2010 governor’s race. In the face of a weakened party, elected officials and business groups have set up their own political organizations, which has at times prevented a unified front.
Carnahan, who recently married Hagedorn, said her goals are to bring the party together, continue to retire long-term debt and strive for better voter outreach for 2020, which will again see Minnesota host a slew of competitive congressional races, a U.S. Senate contest and a battle for majority of the closely divided state Senate.
If Democrats hold the Minnesota House and flip a state Senate seat, they would have full control of state government going into important legislative and congressional redistricting that will shape Minnesota politics for the next decade.
“I also promised President Trump that we will deliver Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes to him in 2020, and I’m committed to seeing that through,” Carnahan said. Trump is said to view Minnesota as a potential pickup opportunity after narrowly losing the state in 2016 by some 40,000 votes.
Carnahan has picked up her share of detractors. She drew critics last year when she asked for — and got — a 10 percent commission on large-dollar donations to the party.
State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who is the Republican leader in the upper chamber where the GOP has a narrow hold on the majority, said in late 2018 that he was staying out of any party leadership fight and declined to endorse her.
Amy Koch, who managed state Sen. Karin Housley’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign, said the party needs better grassroots outreach, better coordination with elected officials like the legislative caucuses and a more aggressive posture: “I like a harder hitting state party. That’s the job of GOP chair. I’d like to see a little more fight. A little more punching,” she said.
Still, Koch acknowledged the difficult political environment Carnahan was operating in and said switching party chairs every two years doesn’t make sense.
It’s not clear who would emerge to challenge Carnahan.
The election will be held at a GOP convention in April.