Thousands of Minnesotans streamed into the Xcel Energy Center on June 3, 2008, to watch Barack Obama deliver a victory speech after clinching the Democratic nomination for president.
Obama supporters clutched blue-and-white “Change We Can Believe In” signs, and Minnesota produced a win for Obama in November.
The economy was the No. 1 issue in 2008, and it remains the paramount concern of many Americans in 2012.
President Obama returns to Minnesota on Friday, but this time it won’t be for a major coronation speech akin to the one he gave four years ago. He’ll be talking about the economy during an appearance at Honeywell in Golden Valley, and he’ll take part in a fundraiser at a restaurant owned by Gov. Mark Dayton’s sons.
Doing better than many others
Compared to the rest of the nation, Minnesota looks like a success story. Minnesota’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in April, considerably under the U.S. jobless rate of 8.1 percent. Yet, the state estimates that 3,100 jobs were cut in April.
Minnesota is home to 19 Fortune 500 companies. But Northwest Airlines was absorbed by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines during Obama’s first term. In addition, Alliant Techsystems Inc. moved its corporate headquarters from Eden Prairie to Arlington, Va., in late 2011. ATK, which is a major defense contractor, wanted to be closer to the military and political leaders who make funding decisions.
While many global companies are headquartered in Minnesota and they provide high-paying jobs, some people are nervous about hundreds of layoffs recently announced by General Mills and Medtronic.
Increasingly, Minnesota is looking to exports to bolster the state economy. Minnesota’s exports of agricultural, mining and manufactured products broke a state record in 2011, when exports hit the $20.3 billion mark.
Just two days before Obama’s visit to the Twin Cities, the Dayton administration released the names of 50 business and other sector leaders who’ll accompany Dayton on a June trade mission to China. The DFL governor will leave for China less than a month after vetoing a tax bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that included some tax breaks for businesses.
Independent voters pivotal in 2010
While most national political analysts expect Obama to carry Minnesota in 2012, the president may be using this week’s trip to connect with independent voters. They played a pivotal role in 2010 in electing a DFL governor and Republican majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate.
Obama defeated Sen. John McCain in Minnesota in 2008 by attracting 54 percent of the vote. McCain got 44 percent of the vote, and the remaining 2 percent was scattered among several candidates.
In Minnesota, Democratic candidates tend to garner a majority of the votes from people who choose to only turn out for presidential elections. In 2008, Minnesotans cast about 2.9 million votes for president. In contrast, 2.1 million people voted in the hotly contested Minnesota governor’s race in 2010.
Many 2012 voters may choose their presidential candidate based on whether they personally have recovered from the Great Recession.
MN Republicans cool to Romney
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who locked up the GOP nomination this week, has experience in the business world. But he hasn’t won a warm reception from Republican activists in Minnesota. Even though former Gov. Tim Pawlenty campaigned for Romney, Rick Santorum won the Minnesota GOP straw poll and Ron Paul delegates dominate Minnesota’s contingent to the national GOP convention.
Since Minnesota is not considered a battleground state, Obama and Romney won’t be flying into the state every other week during 2012. So Friday’s Obama visit will give Minnesotans a rare close-up opportunity to assess whether the president’s economic approach is working or whether Romney should assume the world’s most powerful position.
Fedor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.