CLEVELAND – Fresh off their wild, occasionally riveting national convention, Minnesota Republicans are joined once and for all with the political thunderbolt that is Donald Trump and the unpredictable ride he promises the party both nationally and back home between now and the November election.
"Donald Trump, say what you will about his style, I think he's really articulating the strength and vision that Americans are looking for," Keith Downey, the Minnesota Republican chairman who led the state's delegation to Cleveland, said Thursday. "I think we have a candidate who is a true outsider, who has shown the ability and the moxie to make things change in Washington."
With his usual bravado, Trump capped off this week's Republican National Convention with a speech that set the tone for his fall matchup with Democrat Hillary Clinton. "I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens," he said. From their corner of the convention floor in Quicken Loans Arena, Minnesota Republicans in Cleveland — even those still skeptical of the celebrity tycoon's chances in November — knew they were watching a historic moment.
"We've been fighting pretty hard for this for a year," said Mary Susan of Minneapolis, part of the Minnesota delegation. Wrapped in her cape with the name Trump emblazoned across the back, Susan became overwhelmed with emotion during the speech. "If he makes it all the way, our lives are going to change in a very great way," Susan said. "And I just hope America gives him a chance."
Trump's unlikely rise to the top of the Republican Party is still causing anxiety for party leaders struggling to hold together their fractious coalition of business interests, religious conservatives and disciples of limited government. Trump's habit of alienating would-be allies will make that a continual challenge.
That includes in Minnesota, where Republicans are desperate to protect their three current congressional seats and a majority in the state House.
This year's elections also will set the table for 2018, with an open governor's race that offers the state GOP its best chance in some time of breaking its decadelong losing streak in statewide elections.
Trump's detractors in Minnesota's delegation aren't feeling good about having him at the top of their ticket, particularly after his statements about at least temporarily banning Muslims from the country and building a wall to prevent Mexicans from crossing the U.S. border.
"Division and hatred is not going to play well" in Minnesota, said Andy Aplikowski, a delegate and small-business owner from Andover. "I just don't see how this negativity like this, in just attacking Hillary, is going to convince people to vote for us. We need to be the party of ideas."
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in Cleveland on Thursday to defend Clinton, ripped Trump and Republicans for a convention that offered up relentless, withering scorn for the Democratic candidate.
"This is the kind of negativity, ugliness that you have come to expect from Donald Trump," Franken said.
Back in Minnesota a night earlier, the Clinton campaign and its DFL partners opened a field office near the State Capitol in St. Paul.
"We're gonna make sure Secretary Clinton wins, along with Democrats up and down the ticket," said Anatole Jenkins, the campaign's organizing director.
About 200 Trump supporters gathered Thursday night at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park to watch the candidate's acceptance speech. They received it enthusiastically, cheering and waving signs.
Emilie Maua of St. Paul cried as she watched Trump on the TV screen. The immigrant from the Congo said she believed Trump would make the world safer from terrorists.
"I cried because I saw my dream, my belief come true," Maua said. "I've believed in him since day one."
So far, the Trump campaign has little organized presence in Minnesota. Few Minnesota delegates were willing to predict a Trump win in Minnesota, given the state's 40-year string of choosing Democrats for president.
"I think Trump will have a difficult time in Minnesota," said Jennifer Carnahan, a delegate from Minneapolis who is running for the state Senate this year.
But Minnesota Republicans are unsure how his fortunes could affect their own political prospects.
Some see potential for Trump to do well with rural voters, particularly in traditional DFL strongholds in northern Minnesota.
"People underestimate the Iron Range, the anger about trade, the anger about the police shootings and the fact that Trump is different," said Marty Seifert, a former state representative and a delegate from Marshall.
Others weren't quite so optimistic but pointed out that Clinton's appeal in Minnesota — particularly outside the Twin Cities urban core — is itself far from certain.
"Sure I'm concerned," said Aaron Miller, a delegate from Byron who chairs the Olmsted County Republican Party. "We've got a couple state Senate and House races we really need to win in my area. But I'm also not sure if Hillary is so great for the Democrats in southern Minnesota, so it's hard to say what might happen."
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who spent his time in Cleveland networking with GOP bigwigs from around the country, predicted that Minnesota voters ultimately would find Trump more trustworthy than Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton's going to have a big deficit of trust with voters in November," said Daudt, of Crown.
But a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted in late April revealed that Trump has big trust issues of his own. Just 37 percent of voters think Clinton is honest and only 34 percent say Trump is truthful, the poll found.
Daudt's top aide, Ben Golnik, said Trump's unconventional nature in itself could make it easier for individual Republican candidates in Minnesota to avoid associations with the New York businessman. "It seems like right now, people see Trump as his own brand," said Golnik, also a delegate from St. Paul.
State Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, also was in Cleveland this week — not as a delegate, but just to take in the action.
She represents the kind of suburban district where DFLers see potential to make Trump a campaign issue. "My philosophy is that I campaign as if I'm the top of the ticket," Fenton said. "I'll be out there knocking doors and telling voters why they should vote for me."
Star Tribune reporters J. Patrick Coolican and Maya Rao in Minnesota contributed to this story.