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Gaming politics drive tight RNC race

Briana Bierschbach//May 16, 2012

Gaming politics drive tight RNC race

Briana Bierschbach//May 16, 2012

Pat Anderson, a former state auditor, has faced criticism for her dual role as a committeewoman and a racino lobbyist. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Anderson and Beihoffer square off in rerun of committeewoman contest

The race for Republican National Committeewoman at the state Republican Party convention this weekend is not exactly the most-watched political contest of the year.

First, GOP delegates must pick a candidate in the hotly contested Republican endorsement battle for the U.S. Senate race. Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is on the agenda to speak, too. Then the party will pick delegates to send to the Republican National Convention. The race for RNC committeewoman, on which state central committee members will vote after all the other business is done Saturday, is easy to overlook.

But a close contest is brewing for the position between former State Auditor and current RNC Committeewoman Pat Anderson and GOP activist Janet Beihoffer. The race will reprise a similar battle just last year, when Anderson, Beihoffer and two other candidates ran to replace retiring RNC Committeewoman Evie Axdahl. Axdahl and former RNC Committeeman and gubernatorial candidate Brian Sullivan stepped down in the middle of their terms, meaning Anderson and fellow RNC Committeeman Jeff Johnson are up for re-election this year. (Johnson faces no serious challenge.)

At stake is a four-year term as committeewoman, and at issue for Beihoffer and some of her closest followers is what they term a conflict of interest in Anderson’s dual role as a committeewoman and a lobbyist for slots in racetracks at Canterbury Park. Expanded gambling, they note, is against the Republican Party’s platform.

With just a simple majority needed to win, and two fewer candidates in the mix this year, observers say the contest could go either way.

The contenders

Both Anderson and Beihoffer boast strong — though very different — Republican resumes in their bids for committeewoman.

Anderson has been involved in the Republican Party since she was in college but got her start in electoral politics on the Eagan City Council, where she served as a member for eight years followed by one term as mayor. In 2002 she defeated State Auditor Carol Johnson by 1 percentage point. She lost the post to current State Auditor Rebecca Otto four years later, and in 2010, Anderson tried to reclaim the post but lost by less than 2 percentage points. A few months after losing in the general election, Anderson saw an opportunity in the retirement of Axdahl, who stepped down mid-term after more than 20 years as committeewoman.

Enter Beihoffer. A four-way race quickly formed to replace Axdahl that included Anderson, Beihoffer, activist Mary Igo and Pamela Punt. While she had never held elected office, Beihoffer brought a formidable background in GOP activism and organizing, including former membership on the state GOP executive committee, a seat on the Elephant Club Board of Directors and a stint as the chair of the 2nd Congressional District Republicans. In her run for committeewoman last year, Beihoffer was supported by a number of prominent GOP voices, including GOP bloggers Gary Gross, Derek Brigham and Craig Westover.

She has faced opposition within party ranks, too. Beihoffer resigned from her position as 2nd District chair in October 2009, citing “long-standing efforts to undermine [her] effectiveness” and “recurring … personal attacks.” It’s unclear who was criticizing Beihoffer. She did not return calls for this story. Anderson won the race with 180 votes, with Beihoffer coming in a close second.

The campaigns

This time around, Beihoffer has earned endorsements from Vicky Kline, the wife of Congressman John Kline, and Axdahl. Axdahl was miffed by Anderson’s move to lobby for racino after her election and told Capitol Report that she would have considered serving the last year in her term if she had known Anderson’s intentions. Axdahl has sent out several emails on behalf of Beihoffer, Anderson said. In one, Axdahl accused Anderson of leaking information to reporters about the Republican Party’s dire financial situation, causing public embarrassment for the party.

Beihoffer will also have an advantage in wooing delegates after the Legislature passed the voter ID constitutional amendment proposal. She has been a passionate advocate for the issue at the Capitol and around Minnesota, and managed the GOP election “war room” in 2010. This year she was appointed the Republican Party of Minnesota’s director of voting integrity operations under new Party Chairman Pat Shortridge.

“There are few people who have more experience toiling in the field than Janet,” GOP activist and Beihoffer supporter John Gilmore said. “She doesn’t have to talk about it, because everyone has seen her.”

Beihoffer is also hitting Anderson hard for her dual role as a lobbyist and RNC Committeewoman. “I am not a lobbyist, as is our current National Committeewoman,” Beihoffer wrote in an email blast to GOP activists. “Lobbying Republican legislators who are deeply split on any issue is a significant conflict of interest for a National Committeewoman [or any statewide RPM office holder] of the Republican Party. Any legislator on the other side of her issues knows that she has no reason to support or work to re-elect them. This will never happen if you elect me. A party divided cannot win.”

But Anderson has earned the backing of a handful of her fellow members on the state executive committee, who cite her work in unearthing the extent of the Republican Party’s financial woes as the key reason she should be re-elected.

“I worked with her a lot on the executive board, and the first meeting I was at, she was asking questions about the financial position of the party,” fellow executive committee member Scott Dutcher said. “That was at the time when [former Chairman] Tony Sutton had an iron grip over what was going on, and that was not a comfortable thing that she was doing. I admire her for that.” Other executive committee members supporting her bid: Terry McCall, David FitzSimmons, Rick Weible, Adam Weigold and Bill Jungbauer.

Anderson says the work she has done with the party’s finances over the last year has been a big part of her campaign for re-election. “The committeewoman role is about the presidential campaign and representing the RNC and helping connect the campaign with resources after our endorsement, but because [Jeff Johnson and I] happen to be on the executive committee and because we happen to be the more experienced members of the party, we ended up taking the lead on the financial issues,” Anderson said. “Last summer I was the person who pushed the hardest for the financial review. Unfortunately, I was not only right, but it was worse than I thought.”

The Ron Paul factor

Many observers think the turnout by supporters of Ron Paul could prove a pivotal factor in the race. Some believe the balloting may be decided by the question of whose supporters have the tenacity to stick around for the election after the conclusion of two days of convention business on Saturday.

The Paul factor, to the extent it materializes, appears to tilt toward Anderson. While she has not endorsed a candidate in this year’s presidential election, she is a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a coalition of Paul supporters, and earned the backing of Paul’s Minnesota campaign manager, Marianne Stebbins, during Anderson’s abortive 2010 campaign for governor. Paul’s support is growing in Minnesota, and it doesn’t hurt that the congressman will be the keynote speaker at the GOP convention.

Anderson acknowledges that turnout from that group will be important in the race. “The liberty delegates are not fans of Janet’s,” Anderson said. “Most of them, but not all of them, will be supporting me.”

Anderson noted, however, that Paul supporters do not dominate the makeup of the state central committee, which will vote on the RNC committeewoman race.

Anderson says she finds it strange to have a challenger for the seat. “Janet has every right to run,” she said, “but I’ve been involved in the party since I was in college, and we’ve never had challenges for a sitting RNC person. It’s pretty unusual.

“This job is not all that glamorous. I’m taking orders for hotel rooms; I’m raising money for the activities that we will be doing at the convention. It’s a lot about hosting the convention; it’s not as much about politics.”

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