Republicans in Minnesota were reeling on Wednesday from election losses and trying to figure out why they lost key races across the state.
For the first time since 1978, Democrats now control every statewide office and both chambers of the Legislature. They also now hold five of the state's eight congressional seats.
As the reality of the election results sank in, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers went from a possible candidate for governor to someone who will be out of GOP leadership altogether. U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack went from being a GOP darling in 2010 to out of a job in 2012. And GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann went from winning Iowa's presidential straw poll in 2011 to barely squeaking out a victory in the most Republican district in the state.
It was an awful night for the Republican Party, and many of their leaders were at a loss to explain it.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson said he was not sure why Republicans fared so poorly. Johnson, who is a Republican National Committeeman, said party leaders need to spend the next few weeks determining what went wrong.
"Maybe we'll be able to figure that out," he said, "but there are so many potential factors that I think it's hard to narrow it down to one or two things that we have to fix."
Johnson said a few possibilities were the party's voter turnout operations, lack of money and a high DFL turnout in presidential elections. He also said the backlash against the two proposed constitutional amendments probably doomed legislative candidates in the suburbs.
Zellers did not go that far when asked if opposition to the amendments, particularly among young and minority voters, backfired for Republicans.
"The turnout and the number of people who came out for the amendments absolutely had an effect on the race," Zellers said, "but I don't think you can say it was the single factor."
Zellers said that outside groups, including labor unions and wealthy DFL donors, launched a coordinated, negative attack on legislative candidates.
At the national level, Minnesota Republicans lost a congressional seat when Cravaack lost to Democrat Rick Nolan. Cravaack, who was labeled a giant killer when he defeated longtime DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010, told reporters on Election Night that he couldn't have done anything different to win the DFL-leaning district.
"I left everything on the mat," Cravaack said. "We did everything we could. We've had good legislation. We've had good constituent services. I think our constituent service record sets a bar."
Cravaack was ushered into office with the backing of tea party members who were upset by the size and scope of government. But Democrats labeled Cravaack and other Republicans for state and federal office as unwilling to compromise.
The strategy seems to have worked. On MPR's "Daily Circuit" on Wednesday morning, one caller identified as Stacey said the lack of compromise influenced her vote.
"For the first time ever as a Republican, I walked into that booth yesterday and I voted Democrat because I am so sick of the games being played there. I am so sick of the lack of compromise," she said. "I voted for Obama because at least he is willing to compromise."
Former GOP Rep. Vin Weber told a group at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs that Congress' failure to cut a deal on key federal matters hurt the Republican brand. Weber, a federal lobbyist who advised Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, said the GOP needs to stop suggesting there is no role for government at all.
"The challenge we confront through the tea party phenomenon is the denial of any government role in a whole bunch of things," Weber said. "I understand that. We face an enormous debt situation, and the average citizen looks at this and says, 'Let's just stop everything. We got to stop spending and shut down government.' I get that reaction, but that is not a governing philosophy and that, to me, is the challenge Republicans faced for a long time and still face."
Weber said a lot of the GOP's other problems are fixable. But he said they need better outreach to minority communities, a strong stand on immigration reform and a clear governing philosophy. He said he hopes that strategy will help them in 2014.
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