Minnesota Republicans overwhelmingly reelected party chairman Tony Sutton on Saturday, five months after an election that gave the GOP control of the Legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Sutton, right, who ran unopposed, told cheering GOP activists that his work is far from done in Minnesota and Washington, D.C. GOP Chairman Tony Sutton

"The reason why we have big government is because the big government spenders -- the liberals -- don't give up," he said. "We have to fight to take this country back. ... If we don't, this country is going to go down the road to mediocrity."

Sutton, 43, a Hibbing native who has built a reputation as a tough, brash political operative, capitalized on a string of electoral successes to cruise to an easy victory among the 350 Republican delegates at a Bloomington hotel. Along with the legislative victories, Republican Chip Cravaack handed a stunning defeat to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who had represented the 8th Congressional District since 1975.

Sutton's victory was expected. Unexpectedly, at the same gathering, Tom Emmer, the party's gubernatorial candidate last year, lost his bid to become a national party committeeman to Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

Sutton has little time to savor his victory. In the next two years, he must try to wrestle Minnesota from President Obama's grasp and lend support to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann as they eye presidential runs. He and party leaders also must find a challenger for Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has formidable popularity statewide.

He must do all this as the party digs out of a $780,000 deficit from the last election.

Sutton said he will turn his attention to Republicans' struggle to win statewide races. Despite a swell of Republican legislative victories, Emmer narrowly lost to DFLer Mark Dayton, who dominated among Twin Cities voters.

Republicans will intensify efforts to build support in the metropolitan area, particularly in the Somali, Hmong and Latin American communities, Sutton said. "To me, the math is pretty simple," he said. "We need to do a better job reaching out to folks in the urban core."

He must lead a state party with many members tussling over the direction of the GOP and how far to push for cuts in St. Paul and Washington.

Ron Niemala, a Republican delegate from Grand Rapids, said Sutton needs to continue to "put pressure on the DFL to undo all the excess spending" that's driven the state to multibillion-dollar deficits.

Sutton, who served as a volunteer the last two years, said he hasn't decided whether he will ask for a salary this time. Aside from serving as party chairman, he is a political and public affairs consultant.

His deputy, Michael Brodkorb, easily won re-election, as well. GOP activists also elected two representatives to the Republican National Committee -- Johnson, who beat out Emmer, and Pat Anderson, the former state auditor.

Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288