Minnesota House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, a DFLer from Brooklyn Park, likes to tell a story about her 2010 re-election campaign. She was knocking on doors and had a nice talk with a voter, before the following exchange:
Hortman: “Can I count on your vote?”
Voter: “Sorry, I can’t. I need to send a message to President Obama.”
On its face, this makes very little sense: How would voting Republican in a Brooklyn Park state legislative race send a message to the Democratic president?
Regardless, many voters think this way. Hortman said in an interview last week that the tables have turned, and that this dynamic will help propel her from minority leader to speaker of the Minnesota House.
The idea is that voters will want to send a message to President Donald Trump because they are displeased with his performance and want a check on him, even at the Legislature.
A DFL operative told me last week they’re seeing it in polling, which they believe they can exploit, not just in national races, but also against Jeff Johnson, the Republican nominee for governor and the recipient of a recent “complete and total endorsement,” as the 45th president put it.
But if 2016 is a guide, running against Trump also has risks: DFLers were sent reeling when the party’s efforts to tie candidates to Trump failed badly, and maybe even backfired as Republicans won control of the state Senate, picked up state House seats and held on to suburban congressional districts despite DFL hopes to flip them.
So, some think the best route is to let the Trump situation play out, avoid talk of impeachment and live by an old rule in politics that when your opponent is falling on his face, you step aside and let him fall.
But there’s disagreement. Bob Hume, one of the DFL’s political minds and a longtime aide to Gov. Mark Dayton, retweeted a liberal writer last week who mocked Democrats for “being scared” of talking about how the GOP president was named as “candidate-1” in the criminal conviction of Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen.
Nor are Republicans overly nervous, just yet. The economy is strong, and Trump’s approval rating, while low by historical standards, seems to have a very solid floor. He remains popular in broad swaths of rural America.
Republicans would seem to be most vulnerable with suburban women, but they also have an advantage: A number of strong, suburban women incumbents who have records to run on and work hard. Reps. Sarah Anderson of Plymouth, Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie and Roz Peterson of Lakeville, among others, will be tough to beat.
Although Hortman is optimistic about the national environment, she said there’s still one proven way to flip a district like she did in 2004: Hard work. If you’re not feeling physical discomfort from knocking on doors, you’re not working hard enough, she said.