Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens launched her candidacy for governor Wednesday, a suburban politician little-known in state politics and the first woman to enter a Republican field so far dominated by men with Capitol pedigrees and decades of GOP activism.
“You’ve seen our government come to a halt over intractable differences at the Capitol,” said Giuliani Stephens, referring to lengthy budget stalemates that eventually pitted the GOP-controlled Legislature against Gov. Mark Dayton in court this year.
“Well, let me tell you, this is not how this Italian grandma rolls. That dysfunction will stop when I am your next governor,” Giuliani Stephens said to enthusiastic cheers at the headquarters of Self Esteem Brands in Woodbury.
Some top Republican donors and activists have been eager to see women step forward to run for governor, given both the DFL’s traditional advantage among female voters and the emerging narrative of empowered women speaking up about sexual harassment scandals in politics, the media and Hollywood.
Last week, two state lawmakers — one a Republican, one a DFLer — announced resignations in the face of pressure following sexual harassment allegations leveled against them.
Giuliani Stephens, who was a partner at the law firm of Moore, Costello and Hart, rejected what she called “identity politics” that would focus on her gender. But she said she was proud to be a role model for girls as the first woman mayor of Woodbury, a fast-growing suburb east of St. Paul.
Despite the obvious contrast and fresh profile she brings to the race, Giuliani Stephens will have a difficult road to the Republican nomination. Woodbury, the state’s ninth largest city, is not a major geographic base from which to run, and the Republican field is already crowded with suburban candidates. Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, also hails from the east metro.
Giuliani Stephens is getting into the race months after her competitors; Republicans will gather in early February for a straw poll and to caucus, which will begin the process of winnowing GOP activists to the more than 2,000 who will gather in early June in Duluth to endorse a candidate for governor.
An August primary will decide the nominee. Giuliani Stephens said she will abide by the party’s convention endorsement, meaning she won’t run in the primary if another candidate is endorsed.
As recently as a month ago, GOP donors and activists were privately and sometimes publicly hoping other candidates might jump in to give the party a better shot at winning in November 2018. Republicans have a chance to take control of both the Legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in nearly half a century.
Giuliani Stephens steps into the uncertain GOP field calling herself a conservative Republican, while highlighting concrete accomplishments in Woodbury: Employment is up 17 percent and the city has added 268 new businesses and 2,800 new homes, she said.
“Even with this growth, Woodbury is consistently ranked one of the best places to live, not only in Minnesota, but in the United States, as well,” she said.
Giuliani Stephens said she voted for President Donald Trump and would continue to back him when she thinks his policies are good for Minnesota.
As for Trump’s persona of colorful tweeting and comments, she offered a subtle rebuke: “I wasn’t raised that way,” she said.
The DFL-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota rejected Giuliani Stephens’ small city mayor pitch, calling her “hand-picked by big businesses and Republican insiders” and alleging she would “put corporate profits ahead of hardworking Minnesotans.”
Giuliani Stephens joins more than a half-dozen Republicans running for governor, including Dean, 2014 gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, state Sen. David Osmek of Mound and former GOP Party Chair Keith Downey.
A similarly crowded DFL field includes U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and three House members: Tina Liebling of Rochester, Erin Murphy of St. Paul and Paul Thissen of Minneapolis.