By BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press
BLAINE, Minn. (AP) -- One after another Saturday, leading Minnesota Republicans bluntly described the party's dreadful performance in last month's election in an exercise aimed at retooling for the future.
The public appraisals from the party's central committee meeting weren't pretty: "We got our butts kicked." "We got thumped." "Up and down the ticket, we didn't do very well." Or as Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson put it, "Yes, we had a crappy election night in 2012."
But party leaders also used those results as a call to arms with political attention quickly shifting to the 2014 election. They vowed to address the tactical, technical and thematic shortcomings that have sunk the party to its lowest depths in decades. Republicans now lack any statewide office and will watch Democrats assume control of the state House and Senate come January, ushering in Minnesota's first taste of one-party rule since 1990.
Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge, who will soon give up his post voluntarily, looked for a bright side in the power outage. "There's nothing for Republican unity like Democratic governance," he said.
The party has its share of challenges, not the least of which is $1.5 million in debt on its books.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann joined in the plea to move beyond the sulking and finger-pointing that has prevailed over the past month. There has been internal dissension about whether Republicans relied too heavily on negative campaigning, whether two constitutional amendments with a conservative bent backfired and whether the party did enough to make its vision clear to voters.
"Whining isn't work, and we have a job to do," Hann said.
Hann of Eden Prairie delivered a speech in which he vowed to fight Democratic policies "at every turn" while offering alternatives at the same time. It might well have been an audition for a possible run against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton two years from now.
While Hann insists he won't decide on whether to run for another half-year or longer, his backers passed out stickers, T-shirts and glossy cards promoting a "Draft David Hann for Governor" campaign.
They were led by defeated state Sen. Benjamin Kruse of Brooklyn Park, who chatted with Hann in a hallway outside the main meeting. Kruse insisted the effort was independent and unauthorized by his legislative colleague.
"We will build support for him while he's doing things he needs to do at the Senate as minority leader," Kruse said. "Hopefully it goes to the point of him saying he'll run."
Hann would undoubtedly have company, with several prominent Republicans considering bids for governor. Johnson, who is also a Hennepin County Commissioner, greeted fellow Republicans and fielded their questions about his plans. He said he plans to consult his family over the next few weeks and decide early next year.
"I'm ready to go if we decide it can work for us," he said.
Republicans have long given tremendous weight to party endorsements conferred at election-year state conventions, with those coming up short opting against primary challenges. But some in the GOP complain that has resulted recently in weak statewide candidates, making a full-contact primary a likelihood in the summer of 2014.
The other big electoral prize that year is the seat occupied by first-term Democratic Sen. Al Franken. He won the spot in 2008 by 312 votes after a lengthy recount and court battle.
No one has formally announced a challenge, though plenty of names are floating around. Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen are considered possibilities, as are some rooted in the private sector. Among them is Bill Guidera, an attorney who has been the state Republican Party's finance chairman. He attended Saturday's gathering but said he's undecided.
For now, the party is mostly focused on the shift of power at the state Capitol.
Minnesota finance officials say lawmakers must confront a $1.1 billion deficit when crafting the next two-year budget. Dayton said he will recommend raising income taxes on big earners as part of his solution. Other issues stymied by divided government over the past two decades are also sure to get an airing, including proposals to expand gay rights.
New House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown, Minn., portrayed Democrats as "licking their chops" at the prospect of pushing through their agenda.
"With a Democratic governor and Democrats controlling the House and Senate, it is going to be ugly," Daudt said.
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Dayton said he hopes to keep Republicans involved in the decision-making. But he said he's also ready for the political pushback as Republicans prepare to challenge him in the 2014 election. Since last month's election, Republican officials have hammered Dayton as a tax-happy liberal who will too readily accommodate public employee unions.
"Whatever I do, they'll attack," Dayton said. "I just hope it's in the bounds of honesty, and so far, that is not encouraging."