Hillary Clinton has a Minnesota problem.
A new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll shows that while the former secretary of state would handily beat out Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s nomination, her weaknesses surface when matched against the contenders in the GOP field. She does manage to pull out ahead of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, although narrowly enough to be within the margin of error.
Head-to-head matchups show Clinton losing to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and slightly behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Rubio, in particular, is her equal in drawing women voters, gets more men and, when matched against Clinton, is heavily favored by independents. Minnesotans don’t get the attention Iowans do early in presidential races, but this is a state that takes its politics seriously, and Trump’s third-place showing here may mean that voters are beginning to look a little deeper. And if a third-party candidate does jump in, he or she could find a warmer-than-usual welcome in a state with a long third-party history.
Minnesota has not voted for a Republican for president since 1972, when it rejected left-wing darling George McGovern for Richard Nixon. That Clinton is underperforming in such a state is a warning sign her campaign should take seriously, even though she continues to hold a wide lead over Sanders nationally. Perhaps most unsettling are her high negatives, with 52 percent rating her unfavorable. (It should be noted that’s still better than Trump, whose negatives are 61 percent, with only 21 percent rating him favorably.)
Sanders, meantime, is not to be counted out. He has been building excitement among voters on the left who seem to long for an anti-establishment voice as much as those on the right and has at least a chance of winning both Iowa and New Hampshire.
It should surprise no one, then, that such polarizing front-runners have sparked fresh interest in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s possible third-party run. Described as a cerebral pragmatist and low-key technocrat, the billionaire businessman is a fiscal conservative who also favors gun control, abortion rights and immigration reform. As one of the 20 richest people in the world, Bloomberg, like Trump, could fully fund his own campaign without relying on outside money.
There is no clear path to the presidency for Bloomberg should he enter, and one possible result would be a siphoning off of votes that would throw the election to one of the two major-party candidates. Bill Clinton owed his 1992 victory in part to Ross Perot, another billionaire businessman whose independent run drew nearly 19 percent of the vote (nearly 24 percent in Minnesota).
But Bloomberg could change the race’s trajectory in positive ways. A heavy emphasis on detailed policy speeches, which is the approach aides have said he would take, could move the others to tone down the drama and red meat and turn up the volume on pragmatic solutions. That is badly needed in a race that has had a surfeit of show and too little substance.