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 Minnesota.
But Trump is showing he won’t wait until the closing days of the race to rally supporters in the state, 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 — that and a super PAC 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’s 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.”