GOP chances rest on faithfulness of conservative wing

End of the convention
By the time the state GOP convention wrapped up on Saturday, there wasn't a large crowd to hear candidates and their supporters.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Republican leaders spent a large part of their convention rallying the party faithful. Sen. Norm Coleman delivered a speech that praised President Bush, criticized the United Nations and talked about a range of social issues like abortion. Coleman isn't on the ballot this year, but he encouraged Republicans to work hard for their candidates despite President Bush's low standing in the polls.

"The pundits today keep talking about the political climate. In Minnesota, we don't worry about the climate. We fish on ice, have carnivals in the winter and when the temperature gets to minus 20, maybe, just maybe we button our top button. Let's just do our job of electing Republicans and not worry about the climate," Coleman said.

Sen. Norm Coleman
Sen. Norm Coleman tried to boost the enthusiasm at the state GOP convention in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

But some Republicans are worried. Several Republican activists say they're disappointed with Republican leadership on the state and national level.

"Conservatives are wondering what the heck they're voting for," said David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. Strom says conservatives are unhappy that Gov. Pawlenty and the Republican-controlled House passed stadium financing packages for the Twins and the University of Minnesota and passed a $1 billion bonding bill in the last legislative session. He says they're also worried about the rising federal deficit and out-of-control spending by Congress.

"They feel like I wouldn't have that much different if the other guy was in charge and at least I can yell at the other guy. Every time I yell at my Republican representative, I'm told I'm being disloyal," according to Strom.

Strom says he's worried that many conservatives will either vote for other candidates this election or choose not to vote at all.

Rolando Perez, a Republican activist in LeSeur County, says it's getting harder to find volunteers and raise money this election for Republican candidates. He says he and many of his friends are unhappy that Republican candidates aren't sticking to the party platform of cutting taxes to control spending.

"When you don't have effective leadership that says we're going to stick to our promises, what are we supposed to do? We end up hold the water for them and then they pretty much turn the bucket upon us," Perez says.

When you don't have effective leadership that says we're going to stick to our promises, what are we supposed to do? We end up hold the water for them and then they pretty much turn the bucket upon us.

Candidates need a ranged of supporters to pound lawn signs, knock on doors and make calls on behalf of the party slate. That type of elbow grease typically means the difference in a close election.

Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad says he understands the frustration among Republican voters. Despite that, Ramstad says his party needs to emphasize what's on the line in November.

"Let's face it: control of the House is up for grabs. Control of the Senate is up for grabs. Control of the Minnesota Legislature up for grabs. It's a high-stakes election and as we all know, elections have consequences and that's what we have to discuss during the campaign," according to Ramstad.

Republicans are using several strategies to keep activists engaged. Party leaders warn that Democrats will increase taxes if they win the race for governor, the Minnesota Legislature and Congress. They also say a Democratically-controlled Congress will lead to investigations and the possible impeachment of President Bush.

But Bush may also be the sore spot for Republican candidates. Brian Sullivan, the Minnesota Republican Party's national committeeman, says it's a problem if Democrats are successful in nationalizing this election on the president.

"There's headwind because of Bush's low approval ratings," Sullivan acknolwedges. "But I think ultimately the key is to make it a choice about the alternatives and not to make it a referendum on Bush. It that happens, we lose."

Other delegates, like Pat Wilson of Bloomington, are hopeful that President Bush's poll numbers will turn around and Republicans will stay engaged.

"As the campaign gets going, we'll realize what a great job Bush has actually done and that he's stuck by his principals of defending this nation and also the great economy we have going and once that begins to kick in, I believe the regular, everyday Republican will realize that the Republican Party is the right direction," says Wilson.

It's likely that Democrats will continue to criticize the President and those who support him when they meet at their state party convention this weekend.

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