Downey wins re-election as Republican Party chair by default

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Republican Party of Minnesota Chair Keith Downey was re-elected to a second term on Saturday, defeating Neil Lynch and Bill Jungbauer on the first ballot at the Republican Party of Minnesota State Central Committee meeting at Olson Middle School in Bloomington.

Downey announced his intention to seek another term as chair in January and he faced no challengers for re-election until less than two weeks before Saturday’s election.

The party elections only started to heat up days before the vote and most political observers expected Downey to be re-elected.

The elections for party officers for Republicans this year were very sleepy and generated little enthusiasm for the party. The pre-registration for Saturday’s meeting was so low, the deadline for registering was extended to allow additional Republicans to pay a reduced rate for attending the meeting.

Downey’s election may have appeared effortless on Saturday, but his victory is more of a reflection of the malaise which continues to impede the Republican Party of Minnesota. A long vigorous campaign for chair would have provided an opportunity to thoughtfully examine Downey’s record as chair and it could have generated a much needed spark of energy for Republicans, regardless of who was elected.

The party’s debt continues to concerns party activists and Downey requesting $35,000 per year salary increase on Saturday will do little to stop of the chorus of criticism about the party’s spending decisions.

The results of the 2014 elections gave Downey a small opportunity to claim success as Republicans did win control of the Minnesota House of Representatives. But every candidate for statewide office endorsed by the Republican Party of Minnesota lost and the party’s endorsed candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District was defeated in the primary election.

Critics of Downey have said he has worked harder to claim ownership of Republicans winning back the House of Representatives than he did to actually help Republicans win. Numerous groups helped Republicans win control of the House of Representatives, including the Republican Party of Minnesota.

The top Republican elected official in Minnesota, Speaker of the House of Representatives Kurt Daudt never publicly supported Downey’s re-election. Daudt’s decision to not support Downey’s candidacy provides the best evidence of how much value is given to the party’s work in 2014 and it shows a clear lack of confidence in Downey’s leadership heading into the 2016 elections.

While Downey was re-elected, attempts by his supporters and party staff to defeat Republican Party of Minnesota Deputy Chair Chris Fields were not successful. Fields faced a late challenge from Dave Thul, who lost his bid for re-election last month to serve on the Republican Party of Minnesota’s State Executive Committee.

It is unusual for party staff to actively seek candidates to challenge party officers and even more unusual for another party officer to play such an active role. Thul’s candidacy was not well received on Saturday, as delegates booed a supporter of Downey’s campaign during his nominating speech for Thul.

Fields received more votes from delegates on Saturday than Downey and he solidified his position in the party, which will only make for an uncomfortable second term for Downey. It also does not help the party building a bigger political tent by having the chair of the party working to defeat the only minority party officer.

Since last summer, Fields has been less prone to messaging gaffes and his role at the party has been less visible, either by his choice or by necessity. In the final days before Saturday’s election, Fields became vocal in advocating for changes to the operations of the party which he argued would increase transparency and elevate some of the concerns about the secrecy by which Downey had operated as party chair.

Fields could play an active role in the resurgence of the party, but he needs to do more than send e-mails and tweets. Downey appears to be more focused on a potential candidacy for governor in 2018, which could provide Fields an opportunity to play a more visible role at the party, if he chooses. The coming weeks and months will be an indication if either Downey or Fields are up to the task of leading the party and uniting Republicans across Minnesota.

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