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Near the close of a fractious two-day Republican Party of Minnesota state convention in St. Cloud, Jeff Johnson took the dais to address the elephant in the room: the tensions between supporters of Ron Paul and other activists and party regulars.

Minnesota GOP becomes the party of Paul

The state Republican convention capped a process in which supporters of Ron Paul have made remarkable strides in reshaping the party. They organized supporters and took over local and regional party leadership positions throughout the state GOP apparatus. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

How the Texas Congressman’s supporters are remaking the Republican Party of Minnesota

Near the close of a fractious two-day Republican Party of Minnesota state convention in St. Cloud, Jeff Johnson took the dais to address the elephant in the room: the tensions between supporters of Ron Paul and other activists and party regulars. “It’s real. But you know what? It’s not new, and it’s OK,” Johnson told the crowd, more than half of which consisted of Paul supporters new to the party apparatus. “We always have tensions in this party.”

The Republican National Committeeman then directed his remarks specifically at Paul’s ardent supporters. “You know, there’s a lot of anger,” Johnson began. “Some of the anger is from people who have been sitting in your seats for 20 or 30 years doing hard work and aren’t here this year because you’re here instead.”

Johnson then cited a litany of common criticisms of Paul supporters: “They don’t care about the Republican Party. They’re going to lose interest. They’re going to disappear. They’re going to let someone else do the work, and some of them aren’t even going to vote for Republicans,” Johnson said.

“It might not be fair, but a lot of people are saying that. And if that makes you mad … then make sure it doesn’t happen. Don’t disappear. Don’t let someone else do the work. Don’t lose interest.”

Johnson then turned his attention to veteran party activists, some of whom have greeted the ascendance of the Paulites with fear and anger. “My advice to you is get over it,” Johnson said. “I’m a strong believer [that] in politics there’s no such thing as standing still. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. If we don’t grow, we die as a party.”

Shortly after Johnson concluded his speech, the results of the balloting for 13 delegate slots to the Republican National Convention (RNC) were announced. As widely anticipated, the slate of candidates backed by Paul’s supporters swept the seats. Among those denied national delegate seats: RPM Deputy Chair Kelly Fenton, former U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy and state Rep. Keith Downey. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann received an RNC slot only after a Paul supporter dropped out of the contest to make way for her.

That triumph gave Paul’s supporters 32 of the state’s 40 delegate slots after similar successes at congressional district conventions. In addition, state Rep. Kurt Bills, who was endorsed by Paul, easily won the GOP endorsement contest to take on U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, defeating two other credible rivals.
The convention capped a process in which libertarian activists across the state have made remarkable progress in reshaping the Republican Party in their image. Starting with precinct caucuses in February, they meticulously organized supporters and took over local and regional party leadership positions throughout the Minnesota Republican apparatus.

The result, said longtime GOP activist and 8th Congressional District GOP Chairman Ted Lovdahl, is that a lot of veteran local party activists are sitting on the sidelines and waiting to see whether the new wave of Paul supporters take seriously the job of getting Republican candidates elected in November. “The people who were there have been the stalwarts,” Lovdahl said. “They donate money. They help get people elected. They weren’t paying any attention, or they were blindsided by it. There were a lot of real good people that lost control of their BPOUs. They’re on the outside looking in now. I don’t know what [the Paul wing is] going to do. I don’t know if these Ron Paul people are going to be workers or not.”

State Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who co-chaired the St. Cloud convention, echoed Lovdahl’s sentiments.
“What has happened,” Daudt said, “is on their quest to get those positions, they’ve displaced a lot of people who were involved in the party who tended to be our local supporters — people who put up lawn signs and marched in parades and made phone calls. What I’m concerned about is making sure these newer Ron Paul people who are in the party are in it for the entire party, not just for Ron Paul.

“When he’s not the nominee and no longer in the presidential race, are these people going to stay active, and are they going to help candidates for the Legislature and local [offices]?”

Former GOP Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb points out that the new breed of activists will get its report card in November. “That’s the ultimate test of a political party,” said Brodkorb, a veteran GOP strategist. “I certainly have some concerns whether the delegates that were elected represent where I think our party needs to go to grow long-term. I think it might be represented by too much of one side. But ultimately the test will be how these new leaders who were elected produce results on Election Day.”
That uncertainty about the effectiveness and commitment of the Paulites has left many veteran GOP activists wary of embracing the change in party dynamics. They fear that the unorthodox views of Paul backers — legalizing drugs and raw milk, adopting the gold standard — will alienate donors and turn off swing voters. Some traditional Republican activists also fear that Paul’s supporters are not interested in supporting GOP candidates running for every type of political office but merely advancing the agenda of their libertarian hero.

“I think that for those of us who have a lot of problems with what Ron Paul has to say, this is really a call to action,” said Andy Brehm, an attorney and GOP activist in the 3rd Congressional District. “We need to make sure people are showing up. We can complain all we want, but I think we need to get to work.”

John Gilmore, a GOP activist in the 4th Congressional District and a vociferous critic of Paul’s supporters, argues that calls for unity like the one Johnson offered at the close of the St. Cloud convention are foolish. “The Paul movement by its nature is divisive, and they have no incentive — having won, having trounced — to compromise,” Gilmore said. “It’s not cooperating; it’s capitulating.”

Fundraising concerns

The turbulence in the GOP base comes at a time when the state Republican Party remains mired in debt. It owes roughly $2 million to creditors, including about $800,000 in unpaid legal bills stemming from the 2010 gubernatorial recount that the party is contesting. Last month the party was served an eviction notice by its landlord but was able to work out a payment schedule and avoid displacement.

Those financial difficulties have already led many political observers to question how effective the party can be in working on elections in 2012. The takeover of the party by Paul’s supporters could further exacerbate those difficulties. That’s because many traditional donors are likely to be wary of the new slate of GOP activists.

Lovdahl said that Paul’s military and foreign policy views could rub big donors the wrong way. It will be difficult to reconcile his isolationist views with the long-standing contingent in the party that believes in a strong military. “I think there’s a potential … for them to scare some of the large donors away,” Lovdahl said. “What some of the large donors may do is to target different candidates. Instead of giving to the state party to help with these candidates, they’ll be giving it to the candidates.”

Gilmore puts it even more bluntly. “No one will support a party taken over by the Ron Paul people, including small donors. The [defection of the] large donors [is] a given. The Freedom Club’s gone,” Gilmore said, citing one of the most significant conservative independent expenditure groups. “They’ll donate to individual campaigns, but they won’t donate to the party as it’s currently taken over.”

Minnesota is not unique

The Minnesota GOP is far from alone among state Republican parties in seeing the rapid rise of Paul supporters to positions of power. Their dedication and mastery of party minutiae has been replicated in states across the country, particularly those with caucus systems. But the details have played out differently in each state.

In Iowa, Republicans elected A.J. Spiker the party’s new state chairman in February. Spiker had previously served as co-chair of Paul’s presidential campaign in the state. Two months later, Paul’s supporters won a majority of seats on the 18-seat Iowa GOP State Central Committee. Those changes led to a drop-off in donations and the departure of the party’s highly regarded executive director, according to the Des Moines Register. Earlier this month, GOP activists in the state picked Paul supporters for 10 of the state’s 13 at-large delegate slots for the RNC, raising the possibility that a majority of the state’s delegation could ultimately be backers of the Texas congressman.

In Mitt Romney’s home state of Massachusetts, 16 of 19 delegate slots filled at congressional district conventions went to Paul supporters. Those individuals are still committed to voting for Romney on the first ballot at the convention (he won the state’s primary with more than 70 percent of the vote). But they could use the slots to elevate Paul’s profile at the convention or to press the addition of libertarian planks to the national party platform.

In other states — most notably Alaska, Nevada and Arizona — the ascent of Paul’s supporters has created wholesale schisms within the state parties. In Nevada, for instance, Paulites captured 22 of the 25 at-large delegate slots up for grabs at this month’s state convention. That followed the ouster of two veteran GOP activists, including former Gov. Bob List, from Republican National Committee posts in favor of Paul supporters. In addition, the newly elected state party chair is a backer of the Texas congressman. “We don’t have a Republican Party anymore in Nevada,” Julie Davies, a Romney supporter from Clark County, told the Associated Press earlier this month. “It’s been taken over by the Libertarians.”

State Central Committee next target

After the state convention wrapped up on Saturday, it was immediately followed by another, smaller GOP gathering. The GOP State Central Committee met to elect its two representatives to the Republican National Committee. While Johnson ran unopposed, there was a tough contest between Pat Anderson and Janet Beihoffer for the other slot.

Anderson was widely viewed as the pick of Paul’s supporters. But this was a very different universe of GOP activists from the group that chose the delegates for the RNC. They won their posts at local GOP gatherings more than a year earlier, before the organizational push by Paul supporters. In ballots cast by committee members elected before the Paul wave, Anderson’s association with the libertarian was likely a liability. Beihoffer triumphed by nearly 100 votes out of roughly 340 cast.

“I think there was some pushback” during the State Central Committee proceedings, Daudt said afterward. The Paul acolytes “were much more organized than anybody else. However, I do think that because those are two different groups of people, the State Central delegates probably walked into that meeting having come right out of the state convention and said, ‘Hmm, we don’t really like the way that went, and we’re going to push back.’”

The State Central Committee is likely to be the next target that Paul supporters aim for if they retain their interest in control of the party. “Remember it’s still that State Central Committee that elects the party chair and deputy party chair, all the office positions,” Daudt said. “They don’t control the leadership of the party right now. But they do control the convention.”

Gilmore fully expects the State Central Committee to be the next battleground between establishment Republicans and the Paul faction. “They’re already preparing and organizing for those elections next year,” Gilmore said. “That’s what’s different. They went away in 2006; they went away in 2008; they went away in 2010. They didn’t take over any party structure. They’ve taken them over now.

“Well, I’ll take them at their word. They must be here to stay.”


  1. No mention of the veteran party activists that support Paul and limited constitutional government?
    There are always newcomers to the party, this time they helped put us hundreds of veterans over the top to bring the Republican Party back to its limited government roots. All we hear from in this article are the disgruntled minority big-government proponents

  2. I agree Cat. I don’t like the tone of all the coverage and conversation about this topic. I’m a longtime GOP activist and just becuase I’m supporting one of the particular GOP candidates for President this year I’m veiwed as some stranger who is not a real Republican and I’m here to “take over”. As far as Paul supporters not working, if that where the case, that would make them like most of the other delegates. I’ve seen it over the years. People get elected as delegates and go to the conventions and then when it comes time to make calls and do the work they disappear. They don’t even come to the odd year conventions.

  3. After reading this article, I am sick to my stomach. I’ve been an active Republican all of my life, and was elected to two National Republican Conventions for Reagan. I wholeheartedly endorse Ron Paul for President and Kurt Bills for Senate! We had spoil sports in the past who couldn’t stomach Reagan and wouldn’t back him when Reagan supporters took delegate spots and offices. They became irrelevant.

    Reagan said Ron Paul was his favorite Congressman. Let’s rally behind a true Coservative!

    The GOP has needed new leadership for a long time.

  4. If comments on youtube videos and news/blog postings about Ron Paul were votes maybe he’d get some national traction. They aren’t and he never has. He cannot win a single election outside of his home district. He can never get enough popular support to win in contests where the only voters have been republicans/libertarians! So it’s up to his vile minions to use back machinations to twart the popular will. Clever sure…so was Obama in ramming ObamaCare through congress. P.S. Ron Paul also blamed Reagan for all the debt in a speech as he left the party to flame out with the libertarian party.

  5. Ray, Ron Paul was right if he put some blame on Reagan for increasing the debt. After all it was during Reagan’s presidency that all the Neocons crawled into his administration and laid the groundwork for Iran-Contra and the loser wars America is going broke on. Reagan was badly served by a lot of his advisors. Reagan was great in many ways, but he showed poor judgment in trusting certain people. The military-industrial complex is bloated with waste and fraud, just like the rest of government.

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