Minnesota’s importance as a pivotal battleground in the November presidential election might not be readily noticed through the state GOP delegation taking part in the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday.
More than one-third of the state’s 39 Republican delegates have chosen to remain publicly unidentified, citing security concerns. And so far none of the state party’s leading officeholders has been offered major speaking roles during the four-day virtual convention to nominate President Donald Trump.
One of the most visible Minnesotans will be MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ardent Trump ally who was elected chairman of the state delegation. Lindell, who broke into national headlines this month for promoting an unproven COVID-19 drug, is slated to announce the state delegate votes for Trump on opening night in Charlotte, N.C.
For Lindell, state chairman of the Trump campaign, this will be his first national convention. He described himself Friday as a political newcomer who just wants to “get the word out about all the great things going on with the Republican Party and the president.”
In a convention stripped to its bare business essentials because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota delegates were forced to cancel their travel plans to Jacksonville, Fla., where Trump planned to hold a traditional campaign rally after being shut down by health officials in North Carolina. But the Jacksonville gathering also was eventually canceled.
Much like the state delegates to last week’s Democratic convention, the GOP delegates will be relegated to supporting roles at home. But unlike their DFL counterparts, who rallied outdoors in Minneapolis, they plan to celebrate their candidate’s acceptance speech Thursday with the South Dakota delegation in Sioux Falls, where there are no mask mandates.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has resisted business closures and stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, has landed a speaking role at the convention. So has Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, who is in a tight re-election battle.
In some ways, the low profile for Minnesota’s dedicated party activists reflects a convention program that had to be planned in haste after Trump was forced to abandon a full-blown, in-person convention in Charlotte. In contrast, the Democrats switched to a virtual format much earlier, giving them months to produce streamed programming from around the nation, including the Twin Cities.
Amid the scramble, convention organizers late last week were still announcing featured speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence and members of Trump’s family. Although no Minnesota Republicans have snagged prime-time speaking roles so far, a number of congressional candidates from Minnesota will be highlighted.
U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis, challenging DFL Sen. Tina Smith, has cut a short video. The programming also could feature a video from Kendall Qualls, a Republican running against freshman DFL Rep. Dean Phillips in a western suburban district. Qualls, a first-time candidate, said his segment will highlight his life story of rising out of poverty, serving in the military and finding success in business before launching his run last year.
He hopes to use the platform to express that America is “a country of opportunity, a country of hope,” a message he said provides a “stark contrast” to anger about the state of the nation he sees coming from Democrats.
“No one is going to say it doesn’t matter who you vote for this election,” Qualls said. “You couldn’t get two more different parties and messages.”
A Republican National Committee film crew also has taken an interest in Eveleth Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich, an Iron Range Democrat who supports Trump. “He’s our guy,” Vlaisavljevich said in a CNN segment on northern Minnesota last year. “He supports mining.”
First-term congressman Pete Stauber, a Republican who represents northern Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, also has recorded a convention video, putting an exclamation mark on Trump’s appeal in greater Minnesota, which he will need to carry the state.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said the convention’s focus will include the economy, strong borders and “standing strong with the American worker.”
That would match the RNC’s push in rural parts of a state where Trump signs are already much more prevalent than those of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Unlike past election cycles, the Republicans also have outpaced the Democrats in voter contacts across the state, particularly in in-person canvassing and door-knocking.
Trump’s push in Minnesota, which he has vowed to flip for Republicans for the first time since 1972, has been a boon for the local party.
“They’re swimming on the back of a whale, which is called the Trump campaign,” said retired Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier. “The Minnesota Republican Party is not organizationally competitive with the DFL in terms of fundraising, get out the vote, voter contact. The Trump campaign is attempting to make up that shortcoming.”
To Schier, that makes it all the more surprising that the state delegation is not getting a bigger role in the convention. “You would think that Minnesotans would be featured in a significant way in this convention because of all of the resources that the campaign has focused on Minnesota.”
But Minnesota — Minneapolis in particular — is expected to get a starring role in some of the convention’s messaging on law and order, a theme that plays on the riots following the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing efforts by the Minneapolis City Council to defund the police.
“The Minneapolis City Council, they’re just making it so easy,” Lindell said.
The dark side of that message has extended to the state party’s reluctance to make public its full roster of national delegates. Of the 39 delegates, 16 declined to release their names to the media.
Carnahan, in an e-mail explaining the party’s decision, wrote it off as a sign of the times: “Given the vitriol and hate that we’ve seen brought forth by the left in showing up at people’s homes, hitting piñata effigies, yelling at children, proudly chanting, ‘Let’s watch cities burn,’ people are fearful.”
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.