Republicans already eying 2018 governor’s race

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt spoke at the GOP state central committee in Lakeville. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Minnesota Republicans are still celebrating last month’s election success, but they’re also looking ahead to 2018.

Party activists gathered Saturday in Lakeville for a state central committee meeting, that included several speeches by GOP office holders who’ve been mentioned as possible candidates for governor in two years.

“I don’t have to tell you, but the next election has already started,” said Congressman Tom Emmer. “In 2018 we are going to once again elect a Republican governor in the great state of Minnesota.”

So far, no Republicans have announced their candidacy.

Hennepin County Sherriff Rich Stanek came close. He delivered a fiery campaign-style speech that praised president-elect Donald Trump, ripped political correctness and called for financial penalties for cities that don’t enforce immigration laws.

Stanek also stressed his history of winning as a Republican candidate in DFL-dominated metro precincts.

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“So, it begins here now," he said. " We want to win this governor’s race in 2018 and beyond. Let’s go make it happen.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt spent the past year campaigning on the need for political balance in St. Paul. But with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton not seeking re-election in 2018 and the GOP in control of the House and Senate, Daudt stressed the importance of winning the open seat and creating a new power dynamic.

“We need to make sure we earn the trust and confidence that Minnesotans have put in us, and we do everything we can to work together, better that we ever have before, to make sure we win the governor’s office in two years,” Daudt said. “We will have complete control of state government for the first time ever in the state of Minnesota.”

Republicans also heard from Congressman Erik Paulsen, and state party chair Keith Downey, who are also mentioned as potential candidates for governor.

Downey said he isn’t running for another term as chair. Without revealing any other plans, he acknowledged the speculation about whether he’ll run for governor.

“I have very intentionally at every step of the way involved a number of the other people whose names routinely appear on these lists, to make sure that everybody understands that what I’m doing over the next five months is to position the party, and whoever our nominee in 2018, for success,” Downey said.