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Sawalich’s exit shakes up GOP chair contest

Paul Demko//December 19, 2011

Sawalich’s exit shakes up GOP chair contest

Paul Demko//December 19, 2011

Brandon Sawalich (left) and Tony Sutton (Left, submitted photo. Right, staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Brandon Sawalich‘s abrupt exit from the GOP chair contest — following his brief arrest for expired license tabs and questions about a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement — has left the race wide open.

Former state Rep. Mike Osskopp is well perched to take advantage. He announced via Twitter on Thursday night that he’s seeking the state party’s top post. Osskopp served four terms in the House representing Lake City.  More recently he worked as U.S. Rep. John Kline‘s district director and now runs a government affairs firm.

Another possible strong challenger is veteran GOP strategist Pat Shortridge. His recent resume includes working on U.S. Senate runs by Marco Rubio and Dino Rossi. Shortridge also served as chief of staff and campaign manager for former U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy. He was previously weighing a run for party chair, but opted to back Sawalich. Shortridge tells PIM that he is once again seriously considering the contest. “I’ve had pretty strong encouragement to do it,” he says.

Terry McCall, chair of the GOP in the Second Congressional District, would also draw significant support if he decides to run. He’s vice chair of the party’s Liberty Caucus and has significant backing from the libertarian wing of the GOP base. As of Thursday afternoon, McCall was still weighing a candidacy. One potential hurdle: he would be looking to draw from a similar geographic base as Osskopp.

Then there’s current deputy chair Kelly Fenton. During an appearance on TPT’s Almanac on Friday, she conspicuously did not rule out a bid for the party’s top post. A Facebook page encouraging a Fenton candidacy has been created, but as of Monday afternoon it had attracted just three “like” votes.

The only announced candidate remains Todd McIntyre, who is not well known among GOP activists. Conservative talk show host Sue Jeffers also continues to make noise about a possible bid.

One possible void in the field: a strong anti-gambling candidate. It seems likely that someone representing that flank of the GOP base could still emerge.

The bottom line is that Sawalich’s departure leaves the contest wide open. “I think you could still see anything,” says Pat Anderson, a member of the state party’s executive committee. “It’s so fluid.”

Republicans will gather in St. Cloud on New Year’s Eve day to elect a replacement for Tony Sutton, who abruptly resigned earlier this month.

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