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the Modern Republican Party of Minnesota). It is from Chapter One which covers the time leading up to 1990 and the beginning of the modern era of the MNGOP. It was not been edited and I need to complete the fact checking and footnoting, but I thought in light of the recent state convention that I would share it now. -----------------------------------------------------------------------It was a hot sunny day in June as I stepped off the bus at the old Greyhound bus station in downtown Saint Paul. Despite the heat and the seediness of the bus station I was excited to be in Saint Paul that day – Thursday, June 19, 1986 – the first day of the Independent-Republican State Convention. In 1984 as a high school senior I first got involved in the local Republican Party doing literature drops and phone calls for Ronald Reagan. Now, after attending my first precinct caucus and local convention I was elected a full-fledged state delegate. Looking back I suppose I was pretty naïve. I was definitely green as grass when it came to the ins and outs of party politics. But I was idealistic and excited to be a Republican delegate. I came to the Republican Party because of Ronald Reagan. After the malaise of the Carter years Reagan made you feel proud to be an American again (I know that sounds corny in light of 21st century hyper-cynicism, but it’s the truth). Our best days were ahead of us, America was the leader of the free world against the tyranny of the evil empire of the Soviet Union. I felt I was making a difference getting involved. This is in stark contrast with everyone I grew up with. My dad had been a Teamster truck driver. My mom was a stay at home mom, who sometimes worked as a receptionist or waitress. A very blue collar family. Everyone I went to high school with was a democrat as well (this was Hibbing after all, hometown of DFL Governor Rudy Perpich and the heart of union country). Perhaps it was the rebel in me, with a dash of Ronald Reagan to move it along, but I hated the good ol’ boy one party rule on the Range, and so I became a Republican and by 1986 I was in with both feet as a first time state delegate from Senate District 5 (the heart of the Iron Range running from Hibbing to Virginia). When I got elected a delegate I borrowed $200 from my uncle for clothes, bus fare and a hotel room and off I went. I was a handy man at a local pre-school while working my way through college and that just barely paid the bills. $200 was not a lot of money even for 1986 and so after pre-paying for my expenses I had about twenty five bucks left for food (which I just assumed I’d figure out when I got there). As a lugged my suitcase (a big white, hard shelled monster I borrowed from a relative and no doubt manufactured when Eisenhower was president) down West 7th street, walking passed the Assumption Catholic Church and the nearby Catholic Charities kitchen, I thought about the coming three days. The race for Governor had dominated the news. The week before the
Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party held their state convention and endorsed the incumbent Governor Rudy Perpich for re-election. It was not without controversy as Perpich was a pro-life and pro-gun democrat which was starting to become a rare commodity within the DFL Party. Saint Paul Mayor George Latimer announced he was going to run in the primary against Perpich and announced that day as his running mate Arvonne Fraser, the wife of Minneapolis mayor Don Fraser and a well-known liberal. The Perpich/Latimer primary set the stage for a battle within the DFL party of metro vs. “outstate”; conservative democrat versus liberal democrat. The next three days was going to be a pivotal time for Minnesota Republicans as well. The previous 12 years had been a rollercoaster ride for the Party. In 1974 the Party was reduced to 30 seats in the State House of Representatives out of a total of 134 with an election that was marred by the Watergate scandal. The Republican candidate for Governor, John W. Johnson, received only 29 percent of the vote against the incumbent DFL Governor Wendell Anderson. The 1976 election was no better. With Minnesotan Walter Mondale on the ticket as Vice President with Jimmy Carter the Minnesota GOP remained at 30 seats in the state house and was reduced to 18 seats in the state senate. Popular US Senator and former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey defeated GOP challenger Jerry Brekke who received only 25 percent of the vote. Fortunes changed quickly and by 1978 Minnesota Republicans swept the Governor’s office with the election of longtime First District Congressman Al Quie and both US Senate seats with the elections of David Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz. The party also won the State Auditor office with Arne Carlson (who is an major figure in the modern GOP). The Party also made huge gains in the state house, picking up 37 seats since 1976 and tying for control of that body. However, by 1982 Republican fortunes in Minnesota sank with the economy, losing the Governorship and reduced legislative membership (down to 57 seats in the state house). The lone bright spots were the re-election of Dave Durenberger to the US Senate and the reelection of State Auditor Arne Carlson. Durenberger, during his re-election made a point of separating himself from the policies of the incumbent Republican President Ronald Reagan. His opponent was Mark Dayton, the wealthy scion of the Dayton’s Department store family. Dayton self-financed his campaign and outspent Durenberger by over 2 to 1. The rollercoaster ride continued and by 1984 Republican fortunes in Minnesota were once again on the rise. Incumbent US Senator Rudy Boschwitz easily defeated his DFL opponent, the incumbent Secretary of State Joan Growe. Republicans took control of the State House, and Ronald Reagan came within 3,500 votes of beating favorite son Walter Mondale in his home state. All of this set the stage of the convention I was about to attend. At the time, as I checked into the Civic Center Inn (right across the street from the convention location – the old Saint Paul Civic Center) I was oblivious to the changes that had been taking place within the Minnesota GOP and would not realize until many years later how important this convention was in cementing the Republican Party of Minnesota as a “conservative” political party.
As I went next door to the Saint Paul institution of Cossettas Pizza trying to figure out how I was going to eat for the next three days with the money I had left, I did not yet realize that I had a front row seat for the time when the State GOP made its final break with the “progressive” party of the previous 50 years to the more modern “conservative” party we know today. As green as I was even I knew there were two main factions within the Republican Party of Minnesota. In the vernacular of the day, there were “moderate” Republicans and there were “conservative” Republicans. To a conservative, “moderate” was a euphemism for “liberal” and to a moderate, “conservative” was a euphemism for right-wing evangelical. Moderates were regarded as the establishment, the old guard who had run the Party since the days of Harold Stassen and the Young Republican League in the late 1930’s. They were stereotyped as country club or chamber of commerce types. Fiscal conservatives who were not necessarily opposed to big government, but felt Republicans could manage it better. They were also moderates on social issues, either not wanting to address social issues at all, or taking the position in favor of abortion (many prior to Roe v. Wade). Some of Minnesota’s founding families were in this group; the Pillsbury’s, the Whitney’s. Most of the GOP elected officials in the last fifty years had come from that wing, especially statewide figures like US Senators Ed Thye and Dave Durenberger, and governor’s like Harold Stassen, C. Elmer Anderson, Luther Youngdahl, Elmer L. Anderson and Harold LeVander. Stassen, Thye and C. Elmer Anderson were all active together in the Young Republican League in the 1930’s and were a part of the “diaper brigade” that elected Stassen the “boy governor” of Minnesota at the age of 31 (C. Elmer Anderson was his Lt. Governor at age 26). Dave Durenberger had been LeVander’s executive secretary (chief of staff). Their views were shaped by the “me-too” Republicanism of Wendell Willkie in response to the New Deal policies of Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression (the general impression was that Willkie embraced much of the New Deal – “me too”, the only real difference being that he could do it better). Governor Harold Stassen was the keynote speaker at the 1940 Republican National Convention and was the floor manager for the successful Willkie nomination effort. In more recent times this evolved into supporting the east coast Republicanism of Nelson Rockefeller (again, big government is not necessarily bad; we can just manage it better). Conservatives, at least as we know them today, are a more recent phenomenon. Coming to the forefront nationally with Barry Goldwater in 1964, the modern conservative movement took off with the campaigns of Ronald Reagan in 1976 and more importantly in 1980. His campaigns were a catalyst for conservatives to become active in the GOP. As a result in 1976 and 1980 the Reagan conservatives were able to surprise the establishment and elect Reagan delegates from Minnesota to the Republican National Convention. Conservatives were stereotyped by the moderates as dogmatic and naïve.
Conservatives began to win elections as well. Rudy Boschwitz was (for the most part) a conservative who was elected to the US Senate. Vin Weber, Boschwitz’s campaign manager in ’78, was elected at age 30 to the US House in 1982 and was already becoming a well-known conservative thought leader at the national level by 1986. Social issues were the real rub in the conflict between moderates and conservatives. This is because the influx of conservatives weren’t just Goldwater/Reagan New Federalists or supply side economy types (smaller government, less spending) they were largely socially conservatives, many of whom were Evangelical Christians, but also a good portion of Catholics because of the right-to-life movement. Heading into the ’86 convention a Northstar poll of delegates showed that nearly half the delegates were evangelical. The Northstar poll was interesting because it showed that overall 61 percent of the delegates considered themselves “conservative” with another 16 percent “very conservative”. “Moderates” made up 22 percent with “liberals” coming in at less than 1 percent. Seventy-six percent were either conservative or very conservative so it is not surprising that the poll also showed that “three out of four delegates favor a constitutional amendment to ban abortion”. While this does not seem surprising today that the Republican Party would be the pro-life party, it evolved to get to that position. In fact, in the late 60’s and early 70’s many key GOP elected officials were pro-abortion or mute on the topic. The Roe v. Wade decision happened at a time when conservatives were on the rise within the party and it accelerated that rise by causing an influx of new activists and voters motivated because of this issue (many of whom were former Democrats and/or Catholic – a group not a part of the historic Republican coalition). If there is one single issue that fundamentally changed the makeup of the modern Republican Party it is the abortion issue. In many ways, Roe v. Wade did more to propel the conservative movement than any other factor because it awakened and motivated people who were opposed to abortion to get involved in the Republican Party, which eventually became the Party identified with Pro-Life. Because of this, Roe v. Wade had the ultimate effect of realigning the political parties. Pro-life democrats became Republicans and pro-abortion Republicans became Democrats. As a matter of practical politics, a person’s position on abortion is also a pretty reliable indicator of their general ideology as well. For example, if someone is pro-life they also tend to be fiscally conservative and socially conservative on other issues as well. Also, generally, a pro-abortion person tends to be less conservative, even on fiscal issues. There are people who say they are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but when you probe what they mean, you often find that their definition of what is fiscally conservative is not as conservative as a pro-lifer’s definition of a fiscal conservative. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
I am speaking about groups of people, not individual opinions or beliefs. People’s beliefs and perceptions of themselves can be very touchy, especially about controversial political issues. Many people say things like, “I vote for the person, not the party”, or call themselves “independent” voters. People don’t want to be labeled, but experience has shown that there are very few true Independents, and that most so-called independents vote mostly for the candidates of one party or the other. In short this means many people think of themselves as “independent minded”, but really have beliefs and voting patterns that do not fully match those perceptions. Prior to Roe v. Wade, as a part of the two party system in America, both parties generally had their conservative, moderate and liberal wings. This meant that you could have people belonging to two different parties who shared a similar ideology. This has obviously changed greatly and the two major parties have polarized to the point that the Democrat party is the “liberal” party and the Republican Party is the “conservative” party. While this realignment was not yet complete, it was well on its way by 1986. At the 1978 Republican State Convention the “conservative” candidate for Lt. Governor, Bemidji School Superintendent Lou Wangberg just barely edged out the “moderate” candidate, Rochester State Senator Nancy Braatas, for the endorsement. It is very notable that Braatas was openly pro-choice on abortion and was still considered a viable candidate for the endorsement, something not very likely in today’s GOP (just as it is very unlikely that a pro-life candidate would be endorsed by today’s DFL). In 1982, as the sitting Lt. Governor, Wangberg sought the endorsement for Governor and was able to win after seven ballots against GOP legislator Paul Overgaard who was considered “soft” on abortion. At this convention Wangberg was not considered the most conservative. That description was reserved for former Democrat turned Republican legislator Glen Sherwood, and it was mostly because of his strong stand against abortion as well as his evangelical background. Sherwood’s delegates largely went to Wangberg once it became it clear he could not get endorsed. Overgaard was quoted as saying, “I was knifed in the name of God”. A poll conducted of the delegates showed that 44 percent agreed with the agenda of national organization known as the Moral Majority, while 35 percent disagreed. Once again, as in 1978, the moderate candidate Overgaard was considered viable and polling showed that moderates were still a significant part of the convention make up. The 1982 also included the strongest language to date against abortion. GOP Congressman Vin Weber was quoted by the Star Tribune saying this “represents a turn to the right. But it may be a little too far right of the electorate.” As a sign of this, Party officials went out of their way to say candidates shouldn’t be held to each and every platform plank, which was taken to mean the conservative planks.
Wangberg went on to lose the primary to wealthy businessman Wheelock Whitney (a moderate and pro-abortion Republican). Heading into the 1986 convention you have a political party that has been in transition ideologically. A party that had a history of putting forth moderates and in recent times, conservatives as their endorsed ticket. A party that was seeing the growth in the conservative wing of the party. But also a Party whose voting base was not as conservative as the apparatus. The question now was “is this influx of conservatives permanent”, or was it just a passing fad. More importantly, was this movement in step with the rank and file voting base of the Party. It was very common for moderates at the time to say they represented the true majority of voting Republicans even if the conservatives controlled more and more of the party apparatus. Lori Sturdevant, then a reporter for the Star Tribune in an analysis piece about the Christian conservative movement within the Minnesota GOP wrote: “It could be the  convention where the people who came into politics under the banner of ‘traditional family values’ exercise control over a state party’s biggest quadrennial decision – its endorsement for governor…” As she stated the Christian conservative movement was at a turning point, they were either poised to take control or they would “disintegrate.” I personally remember the feeling among a great number of old timers who thought (wishfully perhaps) that the enthusiasm of these new conservatives would fade and that many would either drop out or become more pragmatic over the course of time. As I walked to the hotel and went into the lobby that first afternoon of the convention I noticed the pre-convention “hospitality rooms” were open. These are rooms various candidates for office set up to woe delegates with food and drink. There was some chatter among the more conservative delegates that candidates should not be serving alcohol in their rooms (I honestly cannot remember who was and who wasn’t, but being 18 at the time it was academic to me anyway). Being a little shy (and a bit of a rube) I avoided the hospitality rooms and went back to my hotel room to change. I remember looking out the window of the hotel at the Saint Paul convention center watching the people streaming into the building. I do not think I have ever been as excited about a political event as I was for this one. I put on my suit (the same one from my high school graduation, but with a new white shirt and tie) and walked over to the civic center. It should be noted that while there are party primaries in Minnesota, the endorsement at convention of candidates by Minnesota political parties do matter, especially in the Republican Party. With a few notable exceptions endorsed candidates are either unopposed in primaries, or defeat any opposition in a primary. At the legislative and congressional level it is rare for an endorsed candidate to even be challenged in a primary much less lose one. Even for statewide
candidates, you will generally win the primary if challenged if you are the endorsed candidate. Those endorsed candidates who have lost primaries usually are the result of special circumstances. Therefore, the delegates at a convention have a huge say in deciding who the candidates will be. Primaries are a so-called “reform” from the turn of the 20th century that was supposed to take the picking of the candidates away from Party insiders. History, however, has shown that party insiders still pick the vast majority of candidates at all levels. And actually, when you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Political parties are made up of people, people who want to elect candidates to office that reflect a core set of values and beliefs. Therefore, it is really up to the members of that political party to decide how they are going to select those candidates that they then put forward for the general public to choose from versus other candidates from other political parties or independent candidates. The process in Minnesota is very open in both major parties and anyone who wants can participate. Politics really is all about who shows up (and real political participation requires more than taking a few minutes to vote in an election). The ’86 convention had been shaping up to be quite a contest. As a delegate I had been receiving letters and phone calls for weeks prior. I was quite impressed when I received a letter from Mike Menning (one of the candidates for governor) that was personally addressed to me, with even a “Dear Tony” and a personal handwritten note from the candidate (given my experience, I have now pretty sure the candidate did not write the note himself – another bubble burst). This was high tech for 1986 when such things were still a novelty. Remember, there was no email, no smart phones much less any cell phones. PC’s were a huge novelty and laptops were a fantasy. Even fax machines were still not in every office (mostly called facsimile machines, or even telecopiers by a few). So getting personal attention like that in a letter really took some effort, and was impressive to an 18 year old delegate. Computers were such a novelty that both newspapers noted that two of the campaigns had computers in the convention “war rooms” to aid in tracking delegates. Given how cumbersome computing technology was at the time I wonder if they were a help or a hindrance (one campaign bragged they had a printer so fast it could do 8 copies a minute. . . which means it still would have taken over four hours to print a handout for the 2000 delegates). Now that I was here it was amazing. The Saint Paul Civic Center decked out in all of its political glory with large banners hanging from the rafters and campaign signs on every available wall space. If Hollywood had conjured up a scene for what a convention would look like this was it. They was a definite energy in the place with the hustle of 2000 delegates, plus alternates, staff, reporters, etc. As I walked over to the registration table to pick up my delegate credentials, I was impressed with the “presence” Mike Menning had in the convention hall.
Former DFL state senator Marion “Mike” Menning had switched parties and was seeking the GOP endorsement. He had switched parties in large part because of abortion and other social issues for which he was becoming too conservative for the DFL. He had been running for the endorsement for 16 months and had been the perceived front runner for quite some time. This was because he appealed to the conservative wing, especially the evangelical conservatives, and seemingly picked up the mantel that Glen Sherwood held in 1982. He was only 40 years old, but was slightly graying which gave him a distinguished look. He was from Edgerton, a small town in southwestern Minnesota with a deep Dutch heritage. He had raised the most money to date, but he had spent it as well. His campaign was very well organized and benefited from the support of key conservative leaders from around the state. Still, there was something missing. The Party switch made some activists uneasy (as Norm Coleman would learn 12 years later). Also, his campaign had been racked with internal dissent in the weeks leading up to the convention. Menning had made a very public show about dismissing from his campaign two key conservative leaders: Mike Cavanaugh and Sharron Mueller. They went over to Cal Ludeman and this helped create the perception that Menning’s campaign was losing steam. I got to know Mike Cavanaugh later on and he was one of the most effective grassroots organizers I have ever met. His personal involvement tended to be the make or break for candidates seeking endorsement who needed votes out of Hennepin County – and Hennepin County had the most votes. Menning was also the only candidate to pick a running mate prior to the convention, a 45 year old former Al Quie appointee named Art Sidner. The pick of Sidner was a little controversial because it was felt it brought little to the ticket for endorsement and alienated those who might have been considered for the spot. Sidner also made some conservative nervous as they were concerned he was not quite conservative enough. I was also impressed with the yellow and blue signage from Cal Ludeman, another early candidate and former State Representative from Tracey, which is another little town in southwestern Minnesota. Ludeman had served in the State House from 1978 to 1982, but grew tired of it and went back to his farm. He was later recruited by his friend, the then Minority Leader in the State House Dave Jennings, and by State GOP Chairman Leon Oistad to be the political director for the State Party and direct the legislative elections in 1984. The Republicans took control in ’84 and Ludeman got a lot of the credit for helping recruit the candidates and developing the strategy that put the GOP in the majority. A conservative, he had been urged to run for governor by people who had questions about the current field. At 35 he was a young, but experienced conservative operative. Coming into the convention his goal was to be everyone’s second choice, the perception being that the convention would deadlock between the other two leading candidates.
The uneasiness many felt about Menning and Ludeman led to an attempt to recruit more candidates into the race. This effort, which included Senator Rudy Boschwitz, resulted in the now Speaker of the State House, Dave Jennings, getting into the race two months prior to the convention. Jennings was the tough talking, if slightly arrogant, minority leader who had led the Republicans into the majority with the help of his good friend Cal Ludeman. Also from a little town in Southwestern Minnesota, Jennings had even been one of the people encouraging Ludeman to run. According to Ludeman, Jennings had offered to transfer the remainder of his own campaign treasury from his state house campaign to Ludeman ($5000). Ludeman then learned just days later that Jennings was going to run for governor and was quoted in newspaper reports that he was very hurt by what he considered a betrayal. Jennings strength was that he was the best known candidate in the field. He also raised as much or more for his campaign in two months (about $250,000) as Menning had raised in 16 months and several times more than the $60,000 Ludeman had raised. Jennings had the slickest set up on any one at the convention and was even running television ads on Twin Cities television to impress the delegates as they came to town (I saw one in my hotel room and I was impressed). Jennings also seemed the most at ease with the media. He seemed to relish the spotlight and was good at giving answers to the tough questions in an easy and sometimes almost flip manner. Ludeman was steady with the media, but not as confident, and Menning just seemed to play right into the stereotypes about the evangelical movement (he kind of looked and sounded like a preacher, which is exactly what he did later in life). There was also a feeling in the moderate wing of the party was that both Menning and Ludeman were too conservative to win in the fall and were looking to back Jennings. Their perception was that Jennings was conservative enough to get endorsed, but moderate enough to win the election. And that was Jennings biggest selling point – electability, the feeling that he was the only candidate running who could beat Rudy Perpich. Electability is a powerful argument with a Republican delegate even today because there are more Democrats in Minnesota than Republicans. This means you want a candidate who agrees with you, but also at the same time can attract independent and Democrats voters. Electability has almost always is a part of the equation (even if it doesn’t seem like that to people who are not a part of the process). Overall, Jennings had the support of the business community and the Republican elites. In times past that would have been the recipe for success. However, this was 1986 and times had changed. As I walked around after registering I poked my head in the Jennings war room and saw the candidate himself giving a pep talk to his troops. He looked right at me having no idea why
some kid he didn’t recognize was poking his head in the door. However, I was wearing a Jennings button, so he must have thought it was okay because no one kicked me out. Yes, I was a Jennings supporter. I was a staunch pro-life conservative delegate, but I thought Jennings was the most electable (call it pragmatic idealism). As the convention got underway there was a definite feeling that Menning was slipping and he knew it. A day earlier in the paper he was quoted directly questioning Jennings pro-life credentials. He stated, “Why do you suppose it is that Dave Jennings has 99% of the pro-choice delegates to this conventions supporting him?” This statement is extraordinary because four years earlier a candidate soft on abortion was considered a viable candidate for endorsement, now any weakness in your pro-life credentials was cause for concern. Jennings was in fact pro-life, but because he had the support of the old guard he was suspect politically with the new conservative activists. Jennings had also angered conservative activists two years earlier when serving as chair of the 1984 state platform committee. Jennings had attempted to shorten the platform to a short statement of principles. This was interpreted by social conservatives as an attempt to water down their hard fought gains on their issues (especially abortion, family values, etc.). The conventional wisdom at the time was that party platforms didn’t matter. That they were simply a reflection of what the activists believed in, but that the candidates were not bound by them. The activists had other ideas. Belief in, and adherence to, the platform was becoming an increasingly important measure for conservative delegates (and was something that would only increase in the coming years). Republican state conventions in Minnesota are laid out very similar to how they are at the national level. The slightly more than 2000 delegates seat theater style, with their delegations by congressional district. The State GOP is organized at the local level either by county or by legislative district. My area was organized by legislative district because Saint Louis County is a big county. The metro area is also largely organized by legislative district as well. What this means is that I was sitting with Senate District 5 within the 8th Congressional District. Senate District 5 had 13 delegates to the state convention. Six for Menning, six for Ludeman and one for Jennings (me). We were lucky because we were sitting relatively close to the stage, but also had a good view of the press area (which as a political nerd impressed me to no end seeing all the political reporters in person, and there were a lot more reporters covering politics in ’86). As I sat there taking it all in I got the impression from the delegate chatter that not only was Menning in trouble, but that my own guy was not as strong as the papers were saying. As the opening session wrapped up the mood of the delegates was that we were going to be in for a long day tomorrow (endorsement day).
Menning appeared on the surface to have the best floor operation. Clean cut young people armed with clip boards and walkie-talkies. However, Ludeman had the best operation within the delegations. His supporters were well prepared with talking points and were engaged in a lot of one on one arm twisting. I didn’t see much of Jennings floor operation, but he had only been in the race for two months and was having a difficult time getting organized. Ludeman’s argument was simple. Cal was conservative, Cal could be trusted, Cal could win in the fall. They were also good at pressing the second choice card. If someone was supporting one of the other candidates they pushed hard to get a commitment for Ludeman as the second choice. Ludeman was also the best one on one of any of the candidates. He had natural charisma that translated best person to person. He was the best looking and the most personable of the candidates. Plus, being the youngest, the “little old lady” contingent loved him. As the day ended, and I was sitting my hotel room eating the left over pizza from my lunch and I realized I was hooked. I loved the process, I loved the politics, and I was ecstatic that I would get to help pick our candidate for governor. Day 2 of the convention (Friday, June 20, 1986) was hot and a little rainy. It didn’t matter to us as we were indoors and focused on the matters at hand. The endorsement process was scheduled to start later in the afternoon (around 5PM) with the theory/hope that it would be done it time for the 10:00 PM news broadcasts. In the meantime we took up the platform. This year’s platform chair, Tony Trimble, had learned from Jennings experience in 1984 and made no attempt to shorten or water down the platform. As reported in the Star Tribune, “strong conservative themes color IR platform.” There was very little controversy about the platform process – by that point the battle on abortion and other social issues had been fought and won by the conservatives at previous conventions, now it was just a natural part of the platform. As a part of the endorsing process each candidate gets a chance to put on a presentation. It can be whatever they like, testimonials from key supporters, videos, music, usually culminating in the candidate speaking. This part is really the spectacle, one last chance to impress a wavering delegate, one last chance to seal the deal. Menning had the more elaborate presentation, but sometimes less is more, as he went over his allotted time and as a result his presentation was cut short. As it was it felt like it was forced, like he knew he was in trouble and was trying too hard to get it back. Jennings presentation had a laser show component (hey, it was the 80’s), and overall his speech was good. He made the case effectively and was articulate. However, Cal Ludeman had the simplest presentation that relied heavily on his speech and less on pyrotechnics. He gave an excellent high energy speech that really helped elevate him in the minds of the delegates – he looked like a governor and sounded like a governor and most importantly he made it appear possible that a conservative (a true “trustworthy” conservative) could win in November. The crowd response was best for Ludeman. Not always the most accurate indicator, but neverthe-less a pretty good rule of thumb. You got a sense right there that Ludeman could do it and
sure enough on the first ballot he was in second place, ahead of Menning. After the third ballot Menning endorsed Ludeman and by the 5th ballot it was all over. Cal Ludeman had been endorsed for Governor. Ludeman would go on to easily defeat Bloomington Mayor Jim Lindau in the Republican primary. Lindau had tried to make the argument that Ludeman was too conservative, but his arguments fell flat with rank and file GOP voters. This was because rank and file Republicans were becoming more conservative as well. Outside pundits always make the mistake of claiming political party activists are out of touch and do not represent the main stream of voters, even within their own party. What these pundits are missing is that party activists are not out of the mainstream so much as they are the leading edge of what the voters in their respective political parties are thinking. While Ludeman lost in the general election, what this convention showed was that conservatives, fiscal and social conservatives, were in charge of the Republican Party, for this there could be no doubt. Four years earlier there had been a competitive contest between conservatives and moderates at the convention, now all the candidates were conservative – it was simply a contest of who is the best (or most, depending on your point of view) conservative to lead the top of the ticket. This convention established the modern Republican Party of Minnesota as we know it today. So the conservatives that fought the battles in the 1970’s through the early 1980’s now appeared to not be out of step, but merely on the leading edge of where the voting base of the were the Party was headed. By 1986, both at the convention and in the primary, the Republican Party of Minnesota was the conservative party. However, starting in 1990 the challenge for conservatives would be how to translate their dominance of the GOP into election victories with the general electorate.
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