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Will a focus on grievance politics be enough for Minn. Republicans this election? – Post Bulletin


ST. PAUL — As Minnesota Republicans gear up for the 2024 election, the party has focused on grievance politics amid intra-party turmoil in recent years. Despite the party’s current status, Republicans think this year might be one for the history books.

Republicans have not held a statewide office since 2011, when former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s second term expired. The party also lost control of the House of Representatives two years ago, giving the DFL a government trifecta that has enabled Democrats to pass legislation along party lines.

In an effort to reclaim Minnesota, Republicans have focused on crime, spending, government overreach and culture war issues including abortion or transgender rights. That strategy is unlikely to change during 2024’s election season, though the party may make an effort to make inroads with groups like the immigrant Somali community to bolster its voting power.

The party has high hopes for 2024 and considers it a winnable election, according to Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann.

“We want to make people aware to every extent we can that we offer a different vision for governance and a different message on some of these concerning issues — education, public safety and the economy,” Hann said. “We think that message is gaining traction and we’re going to keep pushing it up until November.”

The DFL’s long hold on statewide politics has defied political norms across the country, where voters seem to swing back and forth.

However, to put Minnesota voting trends into perspective, the state has only voted for three Republicans for president since 1928. Most notably, Minnesota was the only state to not vote for Ronald Reagan in 1984, handing it to hometown candidate Walter Mondale by just 3,761 votes.

But this election the DFL has slim majorities in the state Legislature, holding onto the Senate by only one vote and the House by six. That’s something Republicans hope to seize on.

As the cost of living goes up and home ownership for younger generations is increasingly out of reach, Republicans hope independent voters will swing back to conservatives this year. All 134 seats in the House are up for re-election. Senators will not be up for re-election until 2026.

A man in a suit smiles.

Hann said voters have lost confidence in the DFL, especially regarding fiscal issues, academic performance in K-12 schools and support for law enforcement.

“What is the cost of groceries? What’s the cost to pay for fuel? How’s the school system doing? What is the tax situation? Are businesses thriving?” Hann said. “People look at it and they say there’s something wrong here.”

The party has also done outreach to metropolitan areas, long considered DFL strongholds, and connected with Minnesota’s Somali and Hispanic communities, Hann said.

The DFL pushes back on Hann’s assertions.

“If Minnesota Republicans really cared about the cost of food, they wouldn’t be trying to get rid of Minnesota’s free school meals program,” DFL spokesperson Darwin Forsyth said. “If they cared about children and families, they wouldn’t be trying to repeal Minnesota’s paid family leave law. Minnesota Republicans are trying to distract the public from the fact they have doubled down on MAGA extremism instead of learning the lessons of 2022. Minnesota Republicans’ support for banning abortion, cutting taxes for the rich, and slashing crucial programs like free schools meals will cost them in November.”

Republicans’ outreach to the Somali community is overdue, says former congressional candidate Travis Johnson.

Johnson ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Michelle Fischbach in 2022 under the Legal Marijuana Now Party and until recently was a Republican candidate for state office. He says the party has not been working in Minnesota.

“The last governor’s race is a prime example,” Johnson said. “You had a Democratic governor who a lot of Democrats don’t even like, yet we still couldn’t make a dent in replacing him.”

Johnson said the chaos surrounding Jennifer Carnahan’s role as Republican party leader during that time likely played a role in the party’s failure in 2022. She resigned from her position as party chair after a federal jury indicted political operative Anton Lazzaro, a close associate, on child sex trafficking charges in August 2021. Carnahan also unsuccessfully ran in 2022 to fill a seat in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District left vacant by her late husband, Jim Hagedorn.

“But I mean, Hann has not done anything to unify the party since he’s been in there,” Johnson said. “He’s done pretty much the opposite.”

Notably, local party delegates failed to make an endorsement for Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, leaving Rep. Michelle Fischbach to fend off challenger Steve Boyd during the August primary.

In Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District,

Joe Teirab refused to concede to Tayler Rahm

after district delegates endorsed Rahm as the preferred candidate to unseat Rep. Angie Craig. Voters will also decide Teirab’s and Rahm’s political fate in the August primary.

BullJohnsonCD7.JPG

Travis “Bull” Johnson, 2022 candidate photo.

West Central Tribune file photo

Johnson also points to delegate elections in Otter Tail County this year,

where Hann invalidated delegates elected in 2024,

stating that those elected in 2022 would stay in place.

Hann downplayed the ruckus in Otter Tail County, saying the intra-party conflict has been going on for the last five or six years and is unique to the party’s structure statewide.

“It’s been a couple of groups up there that have not been on the same page, let’s say,” Hann said. “It’s a very small percentage of people in the Republican universe.”

However, Johnson said Republicans need activists like those in Otter Tail County within the party for a two-pronged approach he envisions for conservatives to capture more votes in Minnesota, one of which is for party foot soldiers to go door-knock.

“But I think the bigger issue is we need to campaign in the cities,” Johnson said, saying that was one of his biggest complaints with Scott Jensen’s campaign for governor.

“Any time I saw any type of campaign event, it was in Greater Minnesota, and it’s like dude, you already have our votes,” he said. “You don’t need to be spending your time out here. You need to be taking votes away from Democrats.”

Johnson specifically wants the party to do more outreach to Somali voters, a voting bloc he called socially conservative along the same lines as the Hispanic community.

“They trust government less than we do because they’ve seen what happens to a tyrannical government. That’s why they’re here instead of back in Somalia. They are, to me, naturally allies to the GOP over the Democrats,” he said.

Both Hann and Johnson agree the party must stop the friendly fire as the election grows closer.

Johnson would like to see the party concentrate on sending moderates to battleground districts, he said.

“We got to be strategic and that’s kind of where some of my issues with some of the other groups are,” Johnson said. “Anybody who’s not hardcore is a RINO (Republican In Name Only).”

He said politicians are there to serve their district and that pushing a candidate that ideologically does not align with the majority of voters will not help the party win more seats.

Lack of vision with cultural wars

The party has mostly taken an oppositional stance to DFL proposals, but if Republicans can entice voters with pocketbook issues, it may be a winning tactic, according to Hamilton political science and law professor David Schultz.

The conservative tactic of simply being against whatever the Democrats are for without articulating a vision seems to be the pattern for Republicans, both locally and nationwide, Schultz said.

“I don’t see them saying that if elected we’re going to do ‘X’ to improve the performance of schools or we’re going to do ‘X’ to stimulate job growth in the state of Minnesota,” Schultz said. “It’s more, ‘Democrats are doing a bad job. We can’t trust them. We just can’t trust them with your tax dollars anymore.'”

David Schultz

David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and Hamline University.

Contributed / David Schultz

While party leader Hann said Republicans are mostly waiting on the current legislative session to end and for the conclusion of their state convention to fully flesh out party strategy, Republicans have mainly focused on perceived slights against various groups, like law enforcement and the religious. They have come out strongly against hot-button issues that polling data suggest most Minnesota voters support, including

abortion

,

gun control

and

protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think the lesson of how (Scott) Jensen got beat so badly two years ago is that the culture wars may appeal to your hardcore base but the culture wars (are) not going to win you over those independents,” Hann said.

Jensen, who ran as a Republican against Gov. Tim Walz in 2022, lost by nearly 200,000 votes.

The party has also focused on largely marginal topics such as

changing the state flag,

even going so far as to sell clothing on its website to show support for the old flag.

However, if Republicans can stick to issues voters outside of their core base care about, there may be a chance the party can end the DFL trifecta this election, with how thin the DFL majority is, according to Schultz.

“They forget the fact that also part of their base is not socially conservative,” Schultz said. “There’s a bunch of fiscal conservatives out there and they don’t look at the fact that a good chunk of independents are going to be more fiscally conservative as opposed to being socially conservative.”





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