Jennifer Carnahan re-elected to lead Minnesota Republican Party

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Patrick Condon, Star Tribune
·3 min read
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Jennifer Carnahan won another term as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota on Saturday, beating back a challenge from a state senator despite harsh criticism of her performance from other top party leaders.

Carnahan defeated state Sen. Mark Koran on the first ballot in a virtual convention of state party activists. Carnahan got the votes of 224 delegates and Koran got 109 votes, according to the tally released by the party.

"Over the last four years we've rebuilt our party, expanded our base, eliminated our debt, improved our finances and brought a new energy to our cause," Carnahan said in a statement released after her win.

Carnahan is the first person of color to lead either of Minnesota's two major parties. The release announcing her win from the state party said she's also the first person ever elected to a third term leading it.

The contest between Carnahan and Koran had grown bitter in recent weeks. Koran and allies accused Carnahan of using the party chair position to tilt the vote in her favor, which she denied. Carnahan meanwhile questioned Koran's integrity and said his attacks would hurt party unity.

The virtual convention was closed to the press and party staffers who report to Carnahan were running the leadership elections, fodder for complaints from Koran and his supporters of an unfair process.

Carnahan, a small-business owner from St. Louis Park, was first elected state party chair in 2017, and reelected two years ago. Supporters say she deserves credit for paying off a debt load that just a few years earlier had pushed the state GOP to the brink of bankruptcy.

In two state election cycles under Carnahan, Minnesota Republicans have had mixed success: they gained three greater Minnesota congressional seats, but Democrats gained two Twin Cities-area seats; the GOP lost the state House in 2018, but nearly regained it last year while also holding its state Senate majority.

And the Minnesota GOP's 15-year losing streak in statewide races is so far unbroken under Carnahan. Former President Donald Trump did worse in Minnesota last year than he did in 2016, despite an investment by his campaign that GOP operatives said dwarfed previous efforts by the party in a state Democrats have carried on the presidential level since 1972.

No debates over the fallout from Trump's loss nor his role in inciting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot has accompanied the Minnesota GOP's leadership elections. Carnahan and Koran both praise the former president and neither have refuted his discredited claims of a rigged election.

Despite winning re-election, Carnahan is likely to be dealing with continued dissent going forward. In recent weeks, two of the state GOP's other leading officials — Barb Sutter and Max Rymer, the Republican National Committeewoman and Committeeman, wrote e-mails condemning Carnahan in unusually harsh terms.

Next year's state elections offer both parties a rare shot at full control of state government: DFL Gov. Tim Walz is up for re-election, and all 201 state House and Senate seats are also on the ballot. DFLers also hold the other three statewide elected offices — attorney general, secretary of state, and state auditor.

"As we look ahead to November 8, 2022, we are a party on the rise poised to tip the scales and put the individual liberties and constitutional freedoms of Minnesota first again," Carnahan said.

Ken Martin, the long-serving chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, was reelected without opposition to a sixth two-year term earlier this year.

Patrick Condon • 612-673-4413