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Trump Begins Effort To Flip Minnesota, Which Was A Democratic Holdout In 2016

Apr 16, 2019
Originally published on April 16, 2019 3:02 pm

When the vaunted Democratic blue wall stretching across the Upper Midwest crumbled in Republican Donald Trump's 2016 presidential victory, Minnesota stood out on the map as a holdout.

Now President Trump sees the state as a personal challenge heading into the 2020 election, and his campaign is making it an early target.

No Republican presidential candidate has claimed the state's 10 Electoral College votes since Richard Nixon in 1972 — the longest blue streak of a state in the United States (the District of Columbia has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since it gained three electoral votes in 1964).

Trump acknowledged the Democratic hold on Minnesota during a quick stop there Monday to tout his signature tax law.

"This has been a very special state. It has been a rare victory for Republicans. And we almost won it," Trump said during a visit to a trucking company in Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis. He said the result would have been different if he had come more often: "One more speech."

Trump used the official White House event, which lasted just over an hour, to speak to local concerns. He addressed proposed mining and pipeline projects in the north, farmers' anxieties in the vast agricultural parts of Minnesota and simmering tensions across the state over immigration. He told the friendly audience he would pursue a health care overhaul "after the election, assuming you elect Republicans."

If the 2016 race is a baseline, Trump starts his effort to flip Minnesota in better shape than any Republican in memory.

Trump won 78 of the state's 87 counties. But he still lost to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 percentage points. That's in a state where considerably more third-party votes went to right-of-center alternatives — about 6 percent of the presidential votes cast — than those on the left.

Trump's losing margin was closer than any presidential race in the state since 1984, when home-state Democratic nominee Walter Mondale edged Republican President Ronald Reagan by a few thousand votes. Minnesota and Washington, D.C., were the only places that kept Reagan from a clean sweep.

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said it all adds up to opportunity for Trump.

"We know that the president has strong support from across Minnesota. I think his support is even stronger today than when he ran in 2016," she said. "The more times we can get him back here, the better."

As the 2020 race ramps up, Minnesota is getting ready for its turn as a presidential battleground and all the candidate visits, ads and persuasion efforts that come with it.

Vince Beaudette, 72, lives in Carver County, which is south of the Twin Cities. He came to the president's stop at Nuss Truck & Equipment and is all in for Trump — red Make America Great Again hat and all.

"The economy is going great. If Minnesotans understand the results that Trump has brought us — we're all living a little better now. We're all taking in more money, and many more of us are employed — Trump ought to win," Beaudette said. "Can that message be delivered to Minnesotans? I'm not sure."

Not only have GOP candidates fared poorly in Minnesota in recent presidential elections, but no Republican has won any statewide race for any Minnesota office since 2006.

So far there are no full-time Trump campaign staff members on the ground in the state.

But Trump is showing he won't wait until the closing days of the race to rally supporters there, as happened in 2016 when he stopped by just days ahead of the election.

He visited twice during the 2018 midterm campaign for raucous arena rallies. Two Republican congressional candidates whom he promoted — and whom a superPAC aligned with Trump boosted with millions of dollars in spending — both won.

But two of Minnesota's Republican congressmen lost amid an anti-Trump mood in their suburban districts.

Democrats are on guard.

"Absolutely I think he can win Minnesota," said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. "Do I think he will? I don't think he will win Minnesota. Because we're not going to take it for granted, and we're going to be just as organized, if not more."

Martin said that his base is energized and that the Trump visits over the past year only add to the intensity.

Trump is on defense in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Martin said Minnesota is a must-win for his party if Democrats expect to defeat the president.

"The reality is that there is no map for Democrats winning the presidency that does not include Minnesota being blue," he said.

Dana Koletar of Minneapolis showed up to protest Trump's latest visit. She is upset about the president's anti-immigrant language and that Trump has gone after her congresswoman, Democrat Ilhan Omar.

"I'm just very disturbed by the backlash against her as a Muslim Somali-American woman," Koletar said. "I do think that's part of the reason she's undergoing more scrutiny."

To Koletar, all the early talk about Trump's ability to flip Minnesota is overblown.

"If you look at our 2018 elections here in Minnesota, look who won the statewide races. It was the Democrats. There definitely is Democratic support. I think it's just a matter of turning out those voters."

Clarification: 4/16/19

An earlier version of this story said that Minnesota had the longest streak of voting for Democratic presidential candidates, going back to 1972. It is the state with the longest such streak; the District of Columbia has backed Democratic presidential candidates since 1964, when the District first gained three electoral votes.

Copyright 2019 MPR News. To see more, visit MPR News.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump was on the ground in Minnesota yesterday for something like two hours, barely that. He was there to tout his signature tax law. But the president is sure to be back between now and the 2020 election. The president's campaign is on the offense, trying to flip this key swing state. Minnesota Public Radio's Brian Bakst has more.

BRIAN BAKST, BYLINE: When the vaunted Democratic blue wall crumbled in Republican Donald Trump's 2016 victory, Minnesota stood out on the map as an upper Midwest holdout. Trump won 78 of the state's 87 counties, but he still lost to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 percentage points. Trump's losing margin was closer than any presidential race here since 1984. Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan says it all adds up to opportunity for Trump.

JENNIFER CARNAHAN: We know that the president has strong support from across Minnesota. I think his support is even stronger today than it was when he ran in 2016. And the more times that we can get him back here, the better.

BAKST: Vince Beaudette is 72 and lives south of the Twin Cities. He came to the president's stop at a suburban trucking company yesterday and is all in for Trump - red Make America Great Again hat and all.

VINCE BEAUDETTE: The economy is going great. If Minnesotans understand the results that Trump has brought us - we're all living a little better now, and we're all taking in more money; and we're all - many more of us are employed - Trump ought to win. Can that message be delivered to Minnesotans? I'm not sure.

BAKST: No Republican presidential candidate has claimed the state's 10 electoral college votes since Richard Nixon in 1972 - the longest blue streak in the country. But Trump is planting an early flag. He stopped by to hear from people benefiting from the federal tax rewrite to plug his efforts to get mineral exploration projects moving and to hint at the challenge ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This has been a very special state. It's been a rare victory for Republicans. And we almost won it - one more speech.

(APPLAUSE)

BAKST: So far, there are no full-time Trump campaign staff on the ground in Minnesota. But Trump is showing he won't wait until the closing days of the race to rally supporters here, as happened in 2016. Democrats are on guard.

KEN MARTIN: Absolutely, I think he can win Minnesota. Do I think he will? You know, I don't. I don't think he will win Minnesota because we're not going to take it for granted. And we're going to be just as organized, if not more.

BAKST: Ken Martin is the state Democratic Party chairman.

MARTIN: The reality is, is that there's no math for the Democrats winning the presidency that does not include Minnesota being blue.

BAKST: Trump campaigned in Minnesota last year for two Republican congressional candidates, who won seats in an otherwise painful midterm election. But no Republican has won any statewide race here since 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate...

BAKST: Dana Koletar of Minneapolis showed up to protest Trump's latest visit. She's upset about the president's anti-immigrant language and that Trump has gone after her congresswoman, freshman Democrat Ilhan Omar.

DANA KOLETAR: I'm just very disturbed by the backlash against her as a Muslim, Somali-American woman. And I do think that that's part of the reason why she's undergoing more scrutiny.

BAKST: Koletar says all the early talk about Trump's ability to flip Minnesota is overblown.

KOLETAR: There is definitely Democratic support. I think it's just a matter of turning out those voters.

BAKST: As the 2020 race ramps up, Minnesota's getting ready for its turn as a presidential battleground and all the candidate visits, ads and persuasion efforts that come with it. For NPR News, I'm Brian Bakst in St. Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEARSON SOUND'S "RUBBLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.