Thought 2019 was a wild year in political news? Buckle up: 2020 is expected to be even bigger — and busier.
The races for the White House and control of U.S. Congress are expected to dominate the news. But the election is far from the only major political story brewing in the new year.
The impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, the trade war with China and efforts to combat disinformation and foreign interference ahead of the Nov. 3 election also will take center stage. The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, is set to issue rulings on cases that could shape the future of abortion, immigration and gun rights, among other wedge issues. While President Donald Trump and the deluge of news out of Washington and the campaign trail is likely to suck up much of the political oxygen for the next 12 months, Minnesota is poised to see its fair share of contested campaigns and heated debates. So what should you expect? Here’s a look at some of the issues — and questions — expected to shape state politics in 2020.
Can Trump win Minnesota — and lift fellow Republicans to victory?
The president has made no secret of his desire to flip Minnesota in 2020. Following a narrow loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016, his campaign is pledging to spend $30 million in hopes of his becoming the first Republican nominee to win the state since 1972. Whether he succeeds could determine whether he returns to the White House for a second term in 2021.
How Trump fares in Minnesota could have a ripple effect down the ballot. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, is expected to face a spirited challenge from Jason Lewis, a former congressman and Trump ally, in November.
David Schultz, a Hamline University professor who studies swing states, sees an uphill battle for the president. But he predicts that “if Trump wins Minnesota, Lewis beats Smith for the Senate.”
All eight of the state’s U.S. House seats also are up for a vote, with political handicappers predicting competitive contests in several of those districts. Trump’s margins could affect results in those close races, especially in swaths of greater Minnesota he won handily last time around, Schultz said.
Can Democrats and state DFLers unite?
Should the Democratic Party lurch to the left or veer center? The question is at the heart of the crowded and tumultuous Democratic presidential primary. So far the race has pit progressive candidates calling for major change, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, against moderates, such as Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who argue a more centrist approach will help the party win back the White House. Minnesotans will cast their primary ballots on March 3 along with more than a dozen other states and jurisdictions participating in Super Tuesday.
Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party may grapple with a similar debate in the year ahead. A leadership fight between Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, a veteran legislator from the Iron Range, and fellow Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, is expected to produce a split between the more conservative greater Minnesota lawmakers and their liberal Twin Cities counterparts. In the state House, some longtime DFL incumbents are facing primary challenges from young candidates who say it’s time for bold changes and new voices.
Will Minnesota’s Legislature remain divided?
Heavy spending on ads for federal races will fill airwaves and Facebook feeds next year. But there’s another big battle on the ballot with major implications for the future: control of the Legislature.
Minnesota is one of just two states with a politically divided Capitol. The Minnesota DFL holds a 16-seat majority in the state House, while Republicans have a three-seat edge in the Senate. DFL Gov. Tim Walz isn’t up for election until 2022. But all 201 state legislative seats are on the ballot in 2020.
The outcome could shift the dynamics at the State Capitol, influencing issues ranging from state spending and tax levels to marijuana legalization. But the partisan makeup of the two chambers also will have long-term implications for Minnesota politics.
Legislators, along with the governor, will be tasked with drawing the legislative and congressional maps for the next 10 years following the 2020 census. Winning back a Senate majority — and holding onto a lead in the House — would give the DFL complete control of state government and the ability to dictate those district lines for partisan advantage. Given the stakes, national groups on both sides are expected to spend big to try to influence the outcome in a handful of competitive state legislative races.
What — if anything — will legislators get done in St. Paul?
Legislators return to the State Capitol on Feb. 11 for a three-month sprint of lawmaking. Their to-do list includes sorting out what, if anything, to do with a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus and how much to borrow to pay for public works and infrastructure projects. Ongoing debates over how to address teen vaping, insulin affordability and management issues at the beleaguered Department of Human Services will also spill into the new year.
Whether or not much gets done in the Legislature in 2020, the session will be a time to talk about gun laws, parental leave, taxes and crime levels, all hot-button issues that might help lawmakers motivate their respective bases to head to the polls next fall. But major movement — or compromise — isn’t likely given the political split between the two chambers.