Republican activists meeting at a Bloomington middle school Saturday re-elected Keith Downey as their party chairman over two challengers.
"I guess it's get back to work, huh?" Downey said after the vote. He captured 68 percent of the vote of a little more than 300 GOP activists, easily defeating challenges from fellow party activists Neil Lynch and Bill Jungbauer.
A former state representative from Edina, Downey had touted what he called the party's turnaround during his two years leading it. Besides a statewide losing streak dating to 2006, the party has struggled with persistent debt problems. The total size of the debt has shrunk under Downey, and now stands at about $1.4 million.
While the party lost races for governor, U.S. senator and several other statewide offices last year, Downey noted the successful effort to claim the state House majority.
"Remember how far we've come," Downey said. "The turnaround is over and the comeback begins."
Lynch, who finished second, is chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-leaning group. He gave an impassioned speech about the need for the party to broaden its message in a way that would appeal to younger voters. He choked up as he related how his teenage daughter recently came out as gay.
"Which party is she going to identify with?" Lynch asked, arguing that younger voters would find much to like in the GOP's economic message but are driven away by its stance on cultural issues.
Third place finisher Jungbauer, a carpenter who recently stepped down as the Second Congressional District GOP chairman, gave an offbeat speech where, among other things, he earned some applause for relating how he once honked at and flipped off a car with a Barack Obama bumper sticker.