The only thing that surprised me about this latest development on the GOP side of the Minnesota gubernatorial race is that it took so long.
Former Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey today pulled the plug on his campaign for governor, saying he could not “see a path to victory” after former Gov. Tim Pawlenty joined the race this month.
Downey, a former state representative from Edina, said in a letter to supporters that he believed he had the right message. “But the opportunity for me to win in November has closed,” he wrote.
When Pawlenty entered the race, “the landscape changed dramatically,” he said.
The former governor raised more than $1 million for his campaign less than a month before announcing he’d seek a third term.
Downey reported raising $182,338 this year, placing him third in the GOP money contest behind Pawlenty and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.
Downey finished second in a straw poll at the Republican precinct caucuses Feb. 6 with 15 percent of the vote. Johnson won the straw poll (45 percent) and was considered the front-runner for the GOP endorsement until Pawlenty entered the race.
Downey's porous performance at the aforementioned GOP caucus straw poll was the strongest sign that he needed to move on, yet he vowed to continue. He even barraged MN Republican voters with emails regarding his desire to engage the other GOP candidates in a "real debate" as opposed to the numerous candidate forums. I guess Downey believed he could prevail in such a venue, but it never came to fruition.
Truth be told, I never took Downey's candidacy seriously when he entered the race last summer. While it appeared the state party apparatus made some mild financial progress under his leadership, Downey had some significant public relations blunders. The aftermath of party delegates' 2014 endorsement of Michelle MacDonald for Supreme Court of MN was (as my friend and NARN colleague Mitch Berg described it) a proverbial goat rodeo. Also, Downey's rhetorical nuking of his deputy chair Chris Fields (who sought to replace Downey as chair in 2017 when he chose not to seek reelection) was incredibly off-putting to a good number of GOP grassroots activists. The idea he could then turn around and gain their support for the party's nomination for governor seemed (to be charitable) far fetched.
It was also peculiar that Downey attempted to paint himself as an "outsider" candidate (a la Donald Trump at the national level) despite the fact he served two terms in the MN House, ran unsuccessfully for MN Senate in 2012 and was state party chair for four years. Not sure where Downey goes from here but I have a hard time believing he has a future in electoral politics.