Florida was turning red, and Rick Rice leaned toward the TV, working his jaw.
“He’s gonna win,” Rice said softly, his face flushing with emotion. “I can smell it.”
The Trump supporter and national GOP committeeman from St. Louis Park caught himself, turned away from the screen and qualified his statement: “He’ll win if he wins Florida.”
The Trump voters gathered at a Wayzata house party and across the country wanted change, and as Tuesday night revealed victories in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, on Wednesday morning they got what they wanted: President Donald J. Trump.
Trump finished third in Minnesota’s March 1 caucus behind Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, one of his worst showings nationwide. But since then, the New York real estate developer and celebrity has energized voters not just across the nation but in Minnesota, where he all but erased the 7.7 percent defeat suffered in 2012 by Mitt Romney.
“I’m old and I’m tired, and I just want something different,” said Dwayne Swanson, 76, a retired propane tanker driver in Kensington. “Just try! What have we got to lose?”
Trump is different, and to his supporters only he is capable — with his record of accumulating wealth and skyscrapers and airplanes — of making government different.
On Sunday, two days before the election, thousands of Minnesotans turned up on a day’s notice and waited hours to roar as he descended from his Boeing 757, moved across the sunlit tarmac and up to the podium in a hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Pumping his fists and pointing, his head swiveling in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, Trump stayed for only 40 minutes. But it was enough for the crowd.
He promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, bring back manufacturing jobs, keep radical Muslims out of the country, build a wall on the border with Mexico and cut health care costs after he scraps Obamacare.
Trump speaks a language his supporters understand — simple English. He faced an opponent, Hillary Clinton, whom millions of Americans cannot abide. And he inspired admiration many had never felt for a politician.
“Yeah, he’s not perfect. He was a playboy and all that stuff. But he doesn’t have a criminal record,” said Shirley Dillman, a retired beautician in Baudette, just south of the Canadian border. “He has a business background, he has a good family, he’s not politically correct. He doesn’t mince words.”
In a volatile campaign that saw the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, Clinton represented the status quo, a long career in politics and government and 30 years of baggage. Trump’s tagline — “Crooked Hillary” — struck a chord.
“Her and her husband both,” Dillman said. “To put her in, with him back in the White House, would just be atrocious.”
In contrast, Trump’s unwillingness to run a traditional campaign and his prolonged reluctance to raise money from wealthy donors only further endeared him to the white working class and beyond.
“We just need this change so much,” said Lynn Kaye, a financial planner in Afton.
Kaye, 57, a lifelong Republican, had never volunteered for a politician, but she worked for Trump’s campaign for most of 2016. On Tuesday, she wouldn’t even consider the possibility of defeat. “I’m not even thinking about that,” she said. “I’m confident he’s going to win.”
By early Wednesday, she was proved right.
At the party in Wayzata, Mary Susan Rehrer donned her red cape with the word “TRUMP” spelled in lights on the back.
When Fox News called Wisconsin for Trump, Bruce Olson was the first to see it.
“Wisconsin!” he shouted, and the room erupted.
Tears streamed from Rehrer’s eyes as she embraced Sheri Auclair, the host of the party who was resplendent in an American flag cape of her own.
“We’re going to do this,” said Auclair. “We’re going to do this!”
Olson pumped his fist like a hockey goal scorer under the television, saying, “Yes, yes, yes.”
Midnight came. The mood softened. Fox News wouldn’t call Pennsylvania or Michigan for Trump. The crowd dwindled to 12, some occasionally yelling at the TV, demanding a result.
When John Podesta took the stage for Clinton and said she would wait until all the votes had been counted, they shouted at the screen.
“Easy way out!” said Rehrer.
“Loser!” said another.
The group had whittled down to Auclair, Rehrer and a couple of others by 1:40 a.m., when Fox called the election for Trump, minutes before he took the stage in New York City with his family. “Thank you very much everybody. Sorry to keep you waiting, complicated business,” he said. “I just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us on our victory.”
Auclair and Rehrer cried and hugged each other. Auclair stayed on her feet and hugged her way around the living room.
Rehrer dropped to her knees before the television, wrapped in her red cape, sobbing.