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One GOP chairman candidate out after arrest, another in

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ST. PAUL -- One candidate for Minnesota Republican Party dropped out Friday after being arrested a day earlier while a colorful former legislator got into the race to lead a party facing financial woes.

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Hearing aid company executive Brandon Sawalich, who had gained support from many GOP leaders, left the race a day after he was arrested by Minneapolis-St. Paul airport police when his pickup truck was spotted with expired license tabs.

Also on Friday, information surfaced that he had settled a sexual harassment dispute out of court.

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Mike Osskopp, who represented the Lake City area from 1995 to 2002, got into the race.

Others could join Osskopp and little-known Todd McIntyre in the contest to replace former GOP Chairman Tony Sutton. He abruptly resigned Dec. 2, leaving the party without either of the top two positions filled.

The next day, party leaders picked Kelly Fenton of Woodbury as deputy chairwoman, immediately appointing her interim chairwoman. She says she does not want the top post permanently.

Sawalich, 36, had gathered endorsements from several big-name Republicans, including House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove. He is an executive with Starkey Hearing Technologies.

Osskopp, 60, announced via Twitter that he is running. He was a radio journalist and talk-show host after spending a few years on the professional golf tour. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in theology.

He recently left as U.S. Rep. John Kline's district director.

In his House career, Osskopp was known for his colorful quotes and energized speeches.

Sutton left the party with nearly $500,000 in unpaid legal bills from the 2010 governor's race recount and about the same amount in other unpaid bills. The party also owes more than $100,000 in a Federal Elections Commission fine about campaign finance reporting violations.

Besides the two in the race, several other names have been floated for state party activists to consider when they meet in St. Cloud Dec. 31.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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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.
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