I arrived in Minneapolis on Saturday morning and spent the last two days getting to know the area. A local friend showed me around town and the locals are very friendly and talkative. You know, Minnesota Nice.
Just driving around, you can feel the transition from blue collar factory town to new hip tech community. The city is known as a great place for young professionals. The arts are well funded and we have already had a media event at the new performing arts center, The Guthrie. The city is close to several gorgeous lakes. Overall, it is one of the few thriving northern cities in the country and you can feel that growth and transition just looking around down town.
Politically, MN is a swing state in 2008 with projections showing Obama winning 51-46. This is a recent change in political alignment in what historically has been one of the most leftist states in the country. MN has the longest streak of voting for Democratic Presidential candidates at 8 straight elections, beating NY and MA. That streak includes being the only state in 1984 to choose MN-native Mondale over President Reagan by a meagre .18%.
Due to the large number of Scandinavian descendants in this region (MN, WI, ND, and SD), the state is more pacifistic than other swing states. Anti-war sentiment is higher here than in other regions. An unscientific sample of yard signs and bumper stickers shows the war to be the favorite hobbyhorse of liberals in the area. And the planned protests at the RNC are almost all war related.
Perhaps due to the lack of war and peace issues at the state level, the GOP has made bigger gains there than at the Presidential level. In 2000, Gore beat Bush 48-45, and in 2004, Kerry won 51-48. In that same time period, party-switcher Norm Coleman (R) won a Senate seat in 2002 and is ahead for his reelection bid this year. And in 2002 and 2006, Tim Pawlenty (R) won the gubernatorial races by narrow margins.
The state is geographically dominated by the Twin Cities which house 3.2M of the 5.2M residents. The urban areas are typically liberal and most rural areas are Republican friendly. The exception is the Iron Range in northeastern MN which clings to a blue collar urban Democratic ideal and continues to elect Rep. Oberstar (D) to Congress. The swing region, which leans Democratic, is the Twin City suburbs. Pawlenty's working class roots helped win over enough of these voters to win his elections while Norm Coleman's successful stint as a Democratic Mayor of St. Paul attracted voters beyond what a "normal" Republican could.