Republicans haven’t won Minnesota in a presidential election since Richard Nixon took the state in the landslide 1972 blowout of George McGovern.
But the electoral map is being redrawn right before our eyes. While Democrats are becoming more competitive in North Carolina and Georgia, Republicans are surging in Minnesota and other states in the upper Midwest.
The reason is rural voters. As the Democrats take a sharp left turn, they have narrowed their base substantially. Nominally conservative but Democratic-voting regions like the Iron Range are finally rejecting Democrats and voting Republican. So far, traditional Democrats are maintaining a slight lead over Trump and the Republicans in Minnesota. But Trump lost the state by only 45,000 votes in 2016 and barely campaigned or ran any ads there. His constant regret is that he didn’t make a bigger effort.
Trump is not making that same mistake twice.
Following the election, Trump said he regretted not doing more. The state’s 10 electoral votes — the same number as neighboring Wisconsin — became an enduring source of infatuation for him.
He’s still preoccupied with his near-miss four years later.
“One more speech, I would have won,” Trump told a crowd recently in Mankato, a small college town in southern Minnesota. “It was so close.”
This time around, Trump has devoted a considerable amount of resources to the state. Staffers poured into Minnesota early and Trump has reserved a million dollars of ad time over the next two months. A million dollars in TV and radio spending goes a lot farther in Minnesota than it would in a big state like California or even Michigan.
Trump’s path to victory in Minnesota is clear: keep the turnout high in rural areas while poaching Democratic voters in Minneapolis and its suburbs.
If Trump has a path forward in Minnesota, it will likely rely on an improvement in the Twin Cities suburbs, combined with spiking turnout in rural areas of the state. It’s a tall task, but there is reason for Democrats to be concerned. By the party’s own estimates, there are 250,000 white, non-college-educated men in Minnesota who are eligible to vote but aren’t registered, a rich target for Trump.
Trump may find some of those voters inthe rural western reaches of the state; Trump won every county west of Minneapolis’ Hennepin County. But his greater opportunity for growth appears to be in northeastern Minnesota, in and around the blue-collar, ancestrally Democratic Iron Range.
Indeed, the Iron Range has been Democratic Party territory since the 1930s. It was a Democratic bastion during the zenith of power for the Democratic Farm-Labor Party.
But that may be changing.
Last week, Eveleth Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich, who described himself as a lifelong Democrat, addressed the Republican National Committee on Trump’s behalf. Scott Dane, executive director of Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota, did, too. And on Friday, the day after the Republican National Convention concluded, Vice President Mike Pence visited Duluth,the most populous city in northern Minnesota.
Flanked by shipping containers draped with banners that read, “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” Pence said, “The road to victory begins in Duluth, Minnesota, and we’re going to win this state on Nov. 3.”
Another former Democratic mayor spoke for many Democrats, saying, “The Democratic platform has moved further and further to the left, and the Democrats who I grew up with … they’re left out in the lurch. … What we stand for, and me being a former Democrat for many years, we stand for our flag and we’re proud Americans and we kneel to pray.”
Democrats are sweating because of the huge uncertainty generated by the George Floyd riots and the racial unrest across the country. If the election turns on the law-and-order issue, the big Democratic urban vote will be more than offset by gains by Trump in rural parts of the state.
Biden is given an edge in the state because of tradition. But law and order have a way of upending tradition so that the issue will be in doubt on Election Day and beyond.