With the contest for a new chairman, the Republican Party of Minnesota is headed for another power struggle between two blocs of activists — the Ron Paul supporters who have taken over much of the party’s grass-roots structure, and traditional conservatives who lost their hold at the state convention last spring.
Two of the key players in this competition are Marianne Stebbins, not a candidate for chair but the chief organizer of Paul supporters, also known as the “liberty” wing, and Keith Downey, a former state representative with a business and legislative résumé, who is a candidate for party chair.
The victor will determine nothing less than whether the Republican Party can return to dominance. Each group believes it has a vision that will lead the party back to financial solvency and organizational effectiveness that, in turn, will lead to the broad voter support that the party lacked in the 2012 election. For Stebbins, that means a radical retrenchment of party ideals.
“We looked at the last election and the party just showed that it was genuinely out of touch,” she said. “They weren’t talking about the economy, they were talking about the constitutional amendments.” For Downey, the party’s principles are not the problem, but he believes they got lost in the translation to voters.
“The basic Republican message of relying on Minnesotans and not bigger government is an appealing one,” he said. “If we can animate the activist base and make people understand we do care, we can excite the public.”