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Not all Republicans happy with GOP

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Many Minnesota Republicans want the party to move further to the political right.

Even some presidential hopeful John McCain supporters sound more like backers of maverick candidate Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who has ignited a desire to return to GOP politics of old.

"There is a level of frustration, mainly with ourselves," Bill Weber of Luverne said Friday as the Republican state convention began at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center.

Once Republicans were elected, they "tried to out-Democrat Democrats," he said, spending too much money. "There is a recognition of what went wrong."

"We did not live up to what we promised in 1994," Webb added about the year when the GOP won big across the country.

While Republican leaders said they are united going into the fall campaign, Paul and many in the convention hall were not happy with the party's politics.

"We have been plummeting to the left," Paul state coordinator Marianne Stebbins said.

Convention officials refused to let Paul talk to the convention, saying McCain will be the party's nominee. But about 400 people turned out early Friday to hear Paul talk.

"What is going on in your Republican Party?" Paul asked. "Haven't they figured it out that we are on the wrong track?"

Paul delivered a 39-minute speech urging Republicans to return to their smaller-government, Ronald Reagan philosophy. The congressman and medical doctor admitted he cannot beat Arizona Sen. McCain in the presidential contest, but said it is important to deliver his message.

"The campaign that is going on right now is the campaign for the freedom revolution, which is going to be going on for a very long time," Paul said. "There is every reason to be encouraged; we have the rightness on our side."

GOP state Chairman Ron Carey said Republicans need to fall in behind McCain.

"He has won the battle," Carey said. "It is time to unite and move forward."

Michael Barrett, who ran for the Congress from western Minnesota two years ago and now is a state party official, said he expects Paul supporters to back McCain, despite numerous attempts by Paul supporters Friday to change rules and allow more favorable conditions for the long-shot candidate.

Barrett said most Republicans agree with Paul on many points, including: "Pork became more important than principles."

Stebbins agreed with Paul that he cannot win the nomination. However, she said that he needed to be like Barry Goldwater, who lost the presidential election in 1964. Goldwater, she said, moved the Republican Party to the political right for years after his loss.

Becky Martinson of Wadena County said part of the reason she came to the GOP state convention this year was to gauge the mood of fellow Republicans.

It was difficult to do, she said.

"I think it is uncertain," Martinson said of whether Minnesota Republicans are unified heading into the 2008 election. "It's a little muddy."

Like other Republicans, Martinson said she is not entirely satisfied with McCain.

"If he's our guy, I'll be behind him," said Martinson.

Some Republicans were excited about their chances in the presidential and U.S. Senate races.

"We're enthusiastic about both of them," said James Tisdell of New York Mills.

Ron Paul's presence outside the convention does not help the party, Tisdell said, because McCain is the party's presidential candidate.

"It doesn't do it a lot of good," he said. "He has no chance of garnering any support."

Convention delegate Tony Sheda of Carlton County, who attended the Paul speech, did not count himself a supporter of the congressman, but said he also is disappointed with McCain.

"I'm hoping that he gets the message and becomes a Republican again," Sheda said of McCain.

Paul supporters frequently offered up boos Friday when their proposed rules and other provisions failed to prevail. They were especially upset that rules hindered their efforts to elect Paul delegates to the summer's national convention in St. Paul.

But convention Chairman Fran Bradley of Rochester lectured them to join with the majority once votes were held.

Paul said he was proud to have been the lone vote against issues more than 300 times while in the U.S. House.

"I have looked at it as a long-term process to try to set an example," he said.

One of his goals is to "change the party," he said during a speech laced with humor.

Paul said that too often the federal government ignores the constitution. If that document had been followed, he added, the country would not be in the Iraq war.

Knowing he was in the middle of farm country, Paul said that the federal government should abandon subsidies.

"Farmers could do a lot better without the government," he said, citing tobacco farmers, who were cut off from federal payments four years ago and today are making more money. "Markets do work."

"Just compare the delivery of medical care to the distribution of cell phones," he said, indicating that had government been responsible for getting cell phones to people, it would not have operated as smoothly as private businesses.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.