New voice in state GOP sets sight on top post

Jennifer Carnahan, in this July photo ahead of the Republican National Convention, has announced her campaign for Minnesota GOP chair. Brian Bakst | MPR Photo

A businesswoman who is relatively new to Minnesota Republican Party activity has entered the contest to lead the state GOP.

Minneapolis entrepreneur Jennifer Carnahan said she's running for party chair. She is the latest candidate seeking to replace Keith Downey, who will leave his post after finishing his second term in April.

Carnahan attended her first party caucus in March, was a delegate to the summer's Republican National Convention and waged an unsuccessful state Senate campaign. She said her rapid rise and her private-sector experience should be attractive to party activists.

“Just because I don’t have the experience in the party doesn’t mean I don’t have great experience somewhere else that is translatable into being highly successful in taking this party to the next level,” Carnahan said.

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Carnahan has held marketing and strategic roles with major corporations before starting a fashion boutique that focuses on Minnesota-made items.

The race also features two current party officeholders, deputy party chairman Chris Fields and Republican National Committeeman Rick Rice. A third person, former state Senate Minority Leader David Hann, is considering whether to run.

“I definitely would be the heavy underdog. There’s no question about that. But where people shouldn’t discount me is that I was new to the party in March. It was the first time I had showed up to caucus, and look at how far I came in the party in 2016,” Carnahan said. “I know that I have the ability to build authentic connections with people.”

She added, “We are the growth and opportunity party, so let’s put our money where our mouth is and give those people the opportunity to try and achieve something.”

Carnahan was born in South Korea and adopted as a young child. She said her election as chair could help dispel stereotypes people have of the Republican Party’s inclusiveness.

The next Republican Party chair will have the task of preparing the GOP for an important 2018, when it will try to break a streak of not winning a statewide election since 2006. The governor's office, a U.S. Senate seat and all other state constitutional offices are on the ballot.