ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Deep in debt and dealing with a complete turnover in leadership, the Minnesota Republican Party is limping into a high-stakes election year.
The condition of the party has led to squabbling over past losses and disagreement over future direction. And it comes as the GOP is looking to defend its first-in-a-generation hold on legislative majorities, the only check on a state government otherwise controlled by Democrats.
The party will meet early in 2012 to select a new chairman to replace Tony Sutton, who abruptly resigned Friday amid internal criticism of the party's finances. The party has lost a third of its staff, including its executive director, as it copes with a $581,000 debt. And no big-name candidates have stepped up to challenge Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar's re-election.
Minnesota Public Radio News reported Tuesday that Republicans are increasingly divided over the party's future, which could affect how the party fares next year.
Michael Brodkorb, who this fall gave up his post as deputy chairman, said party activists need to focus on picking electable candidates rather than those considered purer who have more limited appeal to Minnesota voters.
"If we're shortsighted and only focus on electing ideological purists that can't win the general election, we're not serving our party," he said. "At the end of the day, we need to win elections."
Brodkorb highlighted the case of Tom Emmer, the party's unsuccessful nominee for governor in 2010. Brodkorb blamed Emmer and his campaign staff for the party's financial problems because the GOP struggled to raise money after his endorsement and spent loads of money on an unsuccessful recount.
Emmer's former campaign manager, David Fitzsimmons, argues that Emmer ran a good campaign. Fitzsimmons told MPR that Emmer faced strong headwinds that included Democrat Mark Dayton's high name recognition and millions spent by Democratic interests.
The new chairman must not only heal those rifts among top party operatives but also figure out how to operate on a shoestring budget.
Kelly Fenton, whom delegates to a state convention elected the party's deputy chairwoman on Saturday, said she things Republicans will mend the breach and make a strong showing next fall.
"We've done a great job balancing it already because we do have the majority in the House and the Senate," Fenton said. "There are a lot of voices within our party and all voices are welcome. I think we already did a great job of balancing it and we'll continue in that pattern."
Until the party selects a new chairman, Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson said he intends to help the Minnesota GOP raise money. Johnson downplayed concerns that the GOP will be hampered in 2012, citing polls showing President Barack Obama dropping in popularity.
"Based upon the way things are going in the country right now, that is going to help us tremendously regardless of how organized we are," Johnson said.
Information from: KNOW-FM, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/stations/knowksjn/
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.