National Republicans haven’t paid much attention to Minnesota since Al Franken was battling then-Sen. Norm Coleman in the closely contested 2008 race. With varying degrees of success — holding on to congressional seats and taking the Legislature while failing to win a statewide race in more than a decade — Minnesota Republicans have been on their own.
The RNC is investing money here designed to help Congressional Republicans as they fight for every last seat to maintain their House majority. Minnesota will be home to an open congressional seat in the First District, which DFL Rep. Tim Walz is vacating to run for governor. President Donald Trump won the district by 15 percentage points, so Republicans view the district as theirs for the taking. They also see both the Seventh and the Eighth Districts as winnable — Trump won the former by 30 percentage points and the latter by 15.
Republicans also will have to defend Reps. Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen in the metro suburbs from strong challengers.
And with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton not running again, the governor’s office is also open, giving Republicans a shot at full control of state government for the first time in half a century.
The 2016 election results raised eyebrows among D.C. bigwigs, as Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of beating the heavily favored Hillary Clinton here.
“National partners see how close we came [in 2016], and they see opportunity here,” said Matt Pagano, executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party. “And they’re right.”
Kevin Poindexter, a Republican field specialist with national political experience, is already on the ground. The party recently hired two field staff and a data specialist, and more hires are on the way.
The goal: the type of sophisticated get-out-the-vote infrastructure the RNC had in place in key Midwest battleground states in 2016.
Although keeping Congress and winning the governor’s race are the first priority, the RNC and the White House are probably thinking about 2020, too. Minnesota was an island of blue among a sea of red states in the 2016 presidential race. A broad win in 2020 here would virtually ensure another GOP victory in the presidential race, while also allowing Republicans to draw the crucial congressional and legislative districts after the 2020 census.