There’s no doubt that President Donald Trump is making a strong play for Minnesota, as evidenced by Thursday’s rally at Target Center where he said, “We are going to fight with all of our heart and soul and we are going to win the great state of Minnesota in 2020.” More telling are the hundreds of thousands of dollars his campaign has likely already spent here — with plans to spend millions more.
As the New York Times reported last week, the campaign “is planning to pour tens of millions of dollars into the Minnesota operation, compared with the $30,000 the Trump campaign spent on the state last cycle. The campaign already has 20 paid staff members in the state, and expects to expand to 100.”
So, can he do it?
There are reasons to think he’s making a smart bet.
In 2016, he came closer than any Republican to breaking the near half-century GOP losing streak since Ronald Reagan narrowly lost to favorite son Walter Mondale in 1984. Trump lost by just 44,000 votes.
Trump does best among white working-class voters. Although their share of the state’s electorate is declining, these Minnesotans still make up about 55% of the population, according to a study published by the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
(A state like Virginia, by contrast, is diversifying too rapidly and filling with too many college graduates for Trump to compete.)
Trump may also have room to grow. Trump won the First and Eighth Congressional Districts by 15 points each, but their demographic and ideological profiles suggest he could pile up more votes in those districts, especially in northern Minnesota’s Eighth, which is not the DFL bastion it once was.
Then there’s the strong economy. That’s almost always the most important determinant of a president’s re-election fate.
But there are also reasons to think this is a colossal waste of the Trump campaign’s money. He only bested Mitt Romney’s raw vote total by 5,000 — not much actual improvement — suggesting that part of the reason he came so close in 2016 is because Democrats stayed home. Which seems unlikely in 2020.
Then there’s 2018. Every Republican running statewide hit a hard ceiling on their vote totals. Why? Don’t take my word for it — Minnesota House GOP Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who lost his speaker’s gavel on election night 2018, said voters in the suburbs were casting protest votes against Trump.
Of course, Republicans losing statewide isn’t exactly news. The last time a Republican won a statewide race in Minnesota was 2006, and “Borat” was in theaters.
Here’s a wild card: 8.7% of Minnesota voters chose someone else in 2016 other than Trump or Hillary Clinton. Some people even left the presidential line blank. All told, that's about 277,000 votes up for grabs. A DFL operative tells me they were likely white men in the suburbs.
Here’s what we know for certain: If Democrats can’t hold Minnesota, Trump wins another four years in the White House.
J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican firstname.lastname@example.org