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Former state Rep. Keith Downey easily won a four-way contest for Republican Party chair on Saturday. Downey took 228 votes on the first ballot -- or two thirds of the total cast.

Keith Downey wins GOP chair contest

Keith Downey (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Former state Rep. Keith Downey easily won a four-way contest for Republican Party chair on Saturday. Downey took 228 votes on the first ballot — or two thirds of the total cast.

Bill Paulsen was a distant second with 72 votes. The other two challengers — Bonn Clayton and Don Allen — each received less than 10 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to do the hard work to fix what’s broken,” Downey told the crowd at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bloomington.

Downey takes over the helm of a party that’s still mired in debt. As of the end of February, the state GOP had $1.7 million in unpaid bills. That’s down from a high of nearly $2 million at the start of 2012.

Kelly Fenton was re-elected deputy chair. She won 252 votes, easily defeating challenger Corey Sax.

In the contest for secretary, former 5th Congressional District candidate Chris Fields defeated Ryan Love by a 211-129 vote.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt offered praise for outgoing chair Pat Shortridge, who took over at the end of 2011 when the party was in economic crisis. “He brought some stability and took on a tough job that nobody really wanted,” Daudt said.

Now Downey, who narrowly lost a bid for a state Senate seat in November,  will take over the task of retiring the remaining debt and making the party a relevant factor  for political contests in 2014.

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