Backers want deputy to become GOP chairwoman

A movement is afoot to lure a Woodbury woman into a permanent position as the Minnesota Republican Party leader.

A push has begun to encourage Kelly Fenton to run for the party’s chairmanship. Fenton is serving as interim chairwoman while the party waits to elect a permanent replacement for Tony Sutton, who abruptly quit the position Dec. 2.

Fenton was elected by party activists to the deputy chairman’s post and is serving as interim leader in absence of a permanent party chairman.

“Whether or not Fenton is interested in running we do not know, but we will spread the idea of her possible candidacy to as many people within the party as possible,” according to a news release from a group called Draft Fenton For Chair. “We will grow our movement and show Fenton that there is a calling for her to step up, lead the party in a positive direction and get us back on track for 2012.”

In an interview this month with the Woodbury Bulletin, Fenton did not say whether she would accept a chairman nomination. Instead, she said “it’s best that someone else run for that and I provide stability and leadership here.”

In a Twin Cities Public Television interview, Fenton stopped short of ruling herself out of the chairman race.

The Draft Fenton campaign included the launching of Facebook and Twitter pages.

The GOP chairmanship race began after Sutton resigned suddenly early this month, leaving what some Republicans say is a debt of more than $1 million. Nearly half of that is from bills related to the 2010 governor’s race recount in which Republican Tom Emmer narrowly lost to Mark Dayton.

Until late last week, hearing aid company executive Brandon Sawalich had been leading contender to replace Sutton. But he was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Thursday for expired pickup license tabs and on Friday left the race.

Former state Rep. Mike Osskopp, who served the Lake City area, tweeted Thursday night that he was in the race, but was quiet during the weekend as stories about Sawalich and, especially, former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch dominated the news.

The only other announced candidate for the race is Todd McIntyre, who is not well known in GOP circles.

Speculation is that long-time Republican activist Pat Shortridge is considering the race, along with 2nd Congressional District Republican Chairman Terry McCall.

Also, Sue Jeffers sounded a bit like a candidate on her radio talk show. In 2006, she challenged then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the Republican gubernatorial endorsement.

Republicans plan to meet in St. Cloud on Dec. 31 to pick a new chairman.

The Fenton news release refers to tumult surrounding the party.

Last week, party members were stunned to learn that Koch resigned her post and even more surprised at allegations that she had been involved in an “inappropriate relationship” with a Senate staffer she supervised.

A new majority leader must be picked in less than two weeks, and several Republicans have expressed an interest.

– By Woodbury Bulletin Editor Mike Longaecker with Don Davis

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