MINNETONKA, Minn — Republican delegates at the GOP State Central Convention will vote for the next State Party Chair of the MNGOP in April. The position, held by Keith Downey for the last four years, will take on a new meaning following a huge win by Republicans on November 8.
Alpha News MN is introducing you to each of the candidates for Chair. We asked them to answer a list of questions about their ideas for the future of the GOP. This is how current MNGOP Deputy Chair Chris Fields responded.
Fields could be described as a man of the people. No matter the audience he exudes charisma and confidence. In the past, he has rallied Republicans in a way that brings energy and excitement. This could be attributed to his time in the US Marine Corps.
The corps motto of “no man left behind” was an underlying theme in our conversation. Fields acknowledges the metro has been left behind in attempts by Republicans to win races – something he seeks to change. He leans heavily on the ideas of engagement, something that has served him well as Deputy Chair. Fields military training carries forward in his planning for the Party’s future. He looks at the scenario as a battle that needs to be won with confidence and strategy.
How do you plan to rebrand the party to make it more inclusive?
“You have to challenge the notion of what diversity is and what inclusive is. I don’t buy the Democrats definition of diversity. Democrats define diversity as having 10 different people up on stage with different genders, different colors, and different accents. When they are all screaming ‘we want more government’ that is not diversity. To that end, I’ve always believed Republicans are much more diverse as an organization. We can have 10 different people on stage, but they all have different ideas. That is diversity. At the end of the day we are a big 10 party. We need to do more to let people know who we are. They’re not going to agree with us 10 out of 10 times, but 7, 8, 9 out of 10 times, they’ll find more in common with us than the other side.”
In the past, the GOP has lost statewide races due to vote totals in CD4 and CD5. Many predict the GOP could win statewide if they raise vote totals in these districts to 28%-30%. However, they have been ignored in large part by the Party. How do you plan to change democratic strongholds in the cities to raise those vote totals?
“We have to be there making our case. We have written those places off so much, in some cases, they haven’t seen Republicans in years. It’s an engagement strategy. My Dad, as a community activist has lived in South Bronx for 40 years. He’s been successful because he’s down in the community. Right now, the only thing the Twin Cities hears is how awesome democrats are and how bad we are. Jeff Johnson got 35% in Hennepin County. Tim Pawlenty, I believe got 40%. Hennepin and Ramsey County are responsible for us coming up short in statewide races. It’s not a secret anymore. Everyone wants to compare Minnesota to Wisconsin. We aren’t Wisconsin. Trump got 29% in Milwaukee County and he still won the State. You cannot get 29% in Hennepin County and win the State of Minnesota. Our efforts thus far haven’t been strong enough. It is going to take boots on the ground, us reestablishing our relationship with folks in Ramsey and Hennepin County. It’s time.”
You have some tough opponents running against you. What sets you apart from them?
“I can get the job done. I got here five years ago and I didn’t know anyone or anything about politics. I retired from the marines and said “hey I’m going to take this challenge on.” In five years, I have built solid relationships across this state, with activists and donors. I’ve expanded our reach where we weren’t going for. I believe in an approach that allows us to be everywhere and allows us to be competitive in places where we weren’t competitive. I’ve already done that, I can do that at a statewide level as a Chair.”
What are you running for Chair?
“My decision to run was based on the fact that I was very pleased that we won on election day. However, we dodged a bullet. Ten Senate races were decided by 3 points or less. We lost seven of them, including Lakeville, and Apple Valley, and Dave Hann’s seat in Eden Prairie. Republicans should never lose those seats. We did in 2016 is not going to work in 2018. A different set of skills are going to be needed and a different level of engagement with the community and what Minnesotans needs. I thought I could be that.”
You ran for Congress against Ellison in 2010. How does your experience as a candidate help you run an effective statewide campaign?
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is Minnesota voters are accessible. They are willing to listen to us, they mostly agree with us, and they are willing to vote for us. We just have to go out and meet them where they are. I don’t think we’ve done a great job. I think that we have written off too many people and focused on our strengths and not strengthening our weaknesses. Trump won 19 counties that voted for a Republican for Governor 2006-2014. Now our job is to figure out how we can build relationships so we can get some of their support.”
Despite Minnesota coming as close as it has been in the last 30 years to voting Republican in a presidential race, Stewart Mills lost the eighth and many local candidates did much better than Trump in their districts. Do you think there was a Trump wave?
“Yes. Trump won 78 counties in MN. The previous high I believe was Tom Emmer in 2010 when he won 59 counties. I think those folks came out and were energized by a President who was unabashedly pro-American and willing to put America first. It made a huge difference for us. I don’t think all those Trump voters were your typical Republicans. I would say maybe a 1/3 of those guys came out and said, ‘you know what? I was a voting Democrat but I’ll give this guy a shot.’ Look at Hibbing, M.N. Hibbing hasn’t voted for a Republican President since Herbert Hoover. They voted for Trump, then they turned around and voted for Nolan. It will be the responsibility of the Party Chair to figure out what that is all about and can we go in there now and reintroduce ourselves and become successful in places like Hibbing.”
Should you be elected, you face a very tough road ahead. You have a party that has over $1 million in debt, a skeleton staff, a remarkable statewide win you’ll be expected to replicate in 2018, and just two years to run effective campaigns for mayoral races in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a U.S. Senate race, eight Congressional races, State Representative races, statewide constitutional races, a Governor’s race, and a potential special election.
Where do you begin?
“I’ve already begun. We start by going to counties Trump won and Republicans didn’t. We look at districts Trump won and our candidates came in very close. We start there because we know those people are willing to listen, vote for us, and mostly agree with us. Our debt is going to be an issue and needs to be retired. I believe we can retire it in 18 months. With regard to the statewide races, we have to shape the landscape and create the appetite for change. The party hasn’t done that yet. We cannot sit around and allow Minnesotans to have a steady diet of Trump bashing from the media, celebrities, and from all parts of the political spectrum and then expect to show up six months before the election and say ‘hey vote for us because we aren’t like that.’ No, it is 24/7 365. Our engagement efforts won’t look the same in Minneapolis as it does in Clay County. It’s going to be different. But that work has already begun.”
How does the Republican Party of Minnesota continue to be the Party of fiscal responsibility when it has significant State and Federal debt?
“We have given donors some confidence in the last 3-1/2 years. We are a worthwhile investment because the party is the brand. those guys aren’t successful if the party isn’t successful. We are interlocked. The party is the brand and you need a strong party to send a signal to Minnesotans. This is who we are and this is what we stand for. Our core values center around respect. We respect the meaning of law, we respect individual freedom, and we respect local control. If we are able and convince Minnesotans that is who we are, I think we will do very well.”
Next on the Party Chair candidate list, Alpha News MN will introduce you to RNC National Committeeman Rick Rice. As reported by Alpha News MN, Rice announced his candidacy for State Chair in a MinnPost article. Look for our final interview with Jennifer Carnahan in coming days.
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