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Bitter feelings still divide many of the more traditional conservatives, and libertarian-leaning supporters, who swarmed the party during the last election cycle and displaced many longtime activists at the state convention.
The tension is most vividly playing out as the two sides try to chart a new course.
Republicans have marveled at how a hive of once-quarreling Democratic groups have unified under Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a campaign powerhouse that has created a broad, deep network of donors and pours millions into races while staying aggressive between campaign cycles.
Some Republicans are working toward their own version of Alliance for a Better Minnesota.
“There’s a pretty much universal acceptance that we need to do things differently,” said GOP strategist Ben Golnik, who formed the Minnesota Jobs Coalition in an attempt to fill the void. “For the first time in a generation we don’t have anything, not the House, not the Senate, not the governor’s office.”
Golnik’s group has blasted DFL Gov. Mark Dayton far more aggressively than the state party and long before the GOP even has a front-runner for governor. Taking a page from the GOP’s old playbook, the Jobs Coalition has deployed video trackers to record Dayton at events, giving them critical footage for the coming campaign.
Golnik meets regularly with heavyweight GOP donors, party leaders, East Coast strategists and local business groups to sell his bare-knuckled approach.
“It’s kind of a Field of Dreams model,” Golnik said. “If you build it, they will come.”
Business leaders have formed their own group, United for Jobs. The Minnesota Business Partnership and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce say their goal is to elect pro-business candidates, not specifically Republicans.
“The primary thing we are trying to do is unify the business community,” said David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “Much like Alliance for a Better Minnesota has done, unifying various groups and checking egos at the door.”
Many libertarian-leaning Republicans are wary of that strategy.
Craig Westover, a Ron Paul supporter now working for Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson’s gubernatorial campaign, is convinced that groups like Alliance bring out the worst in politics.
To groups like these, he said, “Truth is irrelevant. True, false, half-truths, misleading statements — none of that matters. You cannot build a vigorous and productive state on corrupt politics.”
Like many in the party, former Republican Sen. Amy Koch is reflecting on the current state of the GOP. She was a driving force in helping Republicans win the Senate in 2010, only to see that achievement implode after admitting to the extramarital affair and stepping down.
Republicans in Minnesota are turning over every stone looking for their next Ronald Reagan or their next landslide, she said. But success is the result of a confluence of many complex, unpredictable factors, she said.
“Everyone thinks a leader or a moment is so easily recreated,” but “those are rare moments where opportunity and leadership combine,” Koch said. “The next path forward will come with a nod to the past, but something entirely new.”
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044