Although not discarding their March 3rd primary, the name of Donald Trump will be the only one on the ballot in the Republican primary. State chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan submitted only the President’s name for inclusion on the ballot. Although there is belly-aching over such moves, it is not uncommon for the incumbent party in the White House running for reelection to do so. Some are describing the move as “undemocratic,” but it is a political reality in both parties. In 2016, Trump finished third in the state primary behind Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. In the general election, he lost by less than 2% mainly because Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson pulled in 4% of the vote.
Trump will have to overcome the longest-running blue streak in the Nation. Even during the Reagan landslides, Minnesota voted reliably Democrat. The last time they supported a Republican presidential candidate was Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972. Most pundits now note that Minnesota could have been won in 2016 had Trump made it a bigger priority. In 2012, Mitt Romney made a play for Minnesota which many establishment Republicans viewed as foolhardy. That mindset prevailed into 2016 when Trump listened to these establishment Republicans and advised him he had no chance of winning Minnesota. Trump did not visit the state until the waning days of his campaign. It was a decision Trump now openly regrets saying, “one more rally and we would have won.”
Thus, there is a greater commitment to taking on Minnesota in 2020. It started with the primary ballot decision. More than a year before the election, Trump held a rally in the lion’s den of liberalism in the state- Minneapolis. Campaign staff have been in Minnesota since the beginning of the summer 2019 organizing and registering Republican voters. Nearly 1,000 volunteers have been trained and deployed. They have established a sophisticated database tracking system that scores registered voters on their likelihood of voting for Trump and working to increase the numbers. The state party is also beefing up its ranks and Carnahan said the staff will be double what they saw in the 2018 midterms.
In those midterms, Democrats managed to flip the 2nd and 3rd Districts that had been held by Republicans for long stretches of time. These areas represent the Minneapolis-St.Paul suburbs. But what did not get notice is that Republicans flipped two other districts in Minnesota that had been held by Democrats also for long stretches of time. This flip in the demographic is what several PACs in favor of Trump, the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign is hoping to take advantage of in 2020.
For example, Republicans hope to take advantage of disgruntled voters who feel disenfranchised by Democrats from the urban areas and who believe the party is a slave to urban liberals. In northern Minnesota, issues like energy pipelines and mining which create jobs- a winning argument for the GOP- will go head-to-head with Democratic talking points over environmental protection and climate change.
It is not as if Democrats are not taking notice of the GOP in the state. Ken Martin, the DFL party chief in Minnesota noted he has never seen such a concerted effort by Republicans this early in any presidential cycle. In response to Trump’s most recent visit to Minneapolis, Martin went on a fundraising blitz around the state warning Democrats of the GOP’s gains in the state. Not only are they aware, they are also spooked and worried.
Minnesota also represents an important role for three other reasons. First, taking their 10 electoral votes would help offset losses in other Rust Belt states. For example, winning Minnesota would offset a close loss in Wisconsin. Secondly, even if Trump fails to carry Minnesota, it diverts precious Democratic resources into the state from other battleground states. Hence, just making Minnesota a battleground state pays dividends for Trump. Third, should Trump win, most within the DFL predict that it would set back the Democrats and their message in Minnesota by a decade. It should also be mentioned that while the Democrats battle it out for the nomination with their clown car of candidates, Trump and the GOP are singularly focused on one thing: the 2020 general election.
The fact is that Trump carried 78 of Minnesota’s 87 counties in 2016. He did so with his unique brand of brash populism. In many counties, he doubled or tripled Obama’s numbers from 2012. In the end, he lost the state by 44,000 votes to Hillary Clinton which was the weakest performance by a Democrat in decades.
Trump’s fingerprints extend down the ballot into the Senate race to take on Democrat Tina Smith. With guidance from two Trump political officials, Jason Lewis, a former Congressman. He has openly allied himself with Trump and sometimes speaks in an unfiltered style, much like Trump. Bill Stepien and Justin Clark are the two Trump operatives helping to steer the Lewis campaign. Stepien has noted that Minnesota in 2020 bears a striking resemblance to Pennsylvania in 2016.
Finally, it should be mentioned that Trump and the GOP have a secret weapon within the ranks of the Democrats- Rep. Ilhan Omar. Her brand of racial politics and the controversies surrounding her (did she marry her brother and commit some kind of fraud? what about those campaign finance violation allegations? is she a Qatari agent?) are not going away for Trump nor anyone challenging her. There was some grumbling by Minnesota Democrats that Omar was too controversial and some were seeking a primary challenger. It is unlikely that the GOP will unseat her, but in the interim Trump can goad her into more controversial statements and the GOP can fundraise off her stances and controversies. She does not face any serious primary challenger, but keep an eye on Lacy Johnson- an African-American Republican who may emerge her general election opponent- whose web page is pro-Trump, pro-Israel, and anti-Omar.
Next: North and South Dakota