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Was Trump right: Could Minnesota flip in 2020?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
There are signs that Minnesota is ready to flip and Trump may not be wrong in his 2020 prediction.

Donald Trump declared in his recent Duluth visit that he could flip Minnesota in 2020. Was this more exaggeration by him or is it a possibility? The simple answer is a little of both, but there are definite signs that this most Democratic of states in 2018 could finally turn Republican, following the path of Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. 

schultz portrait
David Schultz

Minnesota is thought of as the liberal state of Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone, and Al Franken. It is the most reliable Democrat state when it comes to the presidency; the last time it voted Republican was for Richard Nixon in 1972. Tim Pawlenty in 2006 was the last Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota.

Minnesota has become a microcosm of national politics, and there are many signs that the state is turning Republican. Since 1999, the Minnesota House of Representatives has been controlled by Republicans 14 out of 20 years. Since 2010 party control of the state Senate has flipped three times. Since 1999 a Democrat has controlled the governorship only eight years out of 20. When Democrat Mark Dayton won the governorship in 2010 he was the first of his party to win that office in Minnesota since 1986. This shift in party control at the state level mirrors the same at the national level.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 45,000 votes — the closest presidential race in the state since 1984, when Walter Mondale barely beat Ronald Reagan. Clinton’s close victory should not have been a surprise – exit polls put Minnesota at 37 percent to 35 percent in terms of Democratic/Republican affiliation, similar to the 36 percent to 33 percent split nationally.

From 2008 through the 2012 and then into the 2016 presidential elections, the actual number of votes and the percentage of votes received by the Democratic candidate declined in Minnesota. In 2008 Barack Obama received 1,573,454 votes compared to John McCain’s 1,275,409 – a difference of 298,045. In 2012 the gap between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney narrowed to 225,942. Then in 2016 it was 44,765 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – a steady narrowing of the gap between the Democratic and Republican candidate.

Obama won 42 Minnesota counties in 2008

In 2008, of the 87 counties in Minnesota, Obama won 42 of them. In 2012, Obama won 28, and in 2016 Clinton only won nine counties. In comparison, in the 2014 gubernatorial election, the Democrat, Dayton, won 34 counties. Nationally in 2016, Trump won 2,626 counties and Clinton 487. Mostly nationally and in Minnesota, Clinton won mainly the urban counties.

As with nationally, the Democrat’s base appears to be eroding, contracting to simply urban areas. The reasons are multifaceted. There is the Democratic appeal to educated urban liberals, often more affluent who look down on or disdain as stupid their rural and suburban counterparts, or those who are working class because they do not share their same interests or lifestyle preferences. There is also the failure of both parties to pay attention to the class and economic concerns of white-working class America. They abandoned class for identity politics. Democrats seem also to have a one-size-fits-all campaign strategy that works well with urban populations but which is not tailored to the suburbs and rural areas.

Democrats have also embraced a “demographics with destiny” argument that often assumes that history in on their side and that eventually voters will return to their senses and vote for them. Finally, Republicans have well exploited the economic and cultural fears of rural, suburban, working class America, offering a narrative resonates with those who feel ignored. All this is true nationally, and is being played out too in Minnesota.

Competitive congressional races

Finally one can point to competitive congressional races as a possible sign of Minnesota ready to flip. There is an open race for governor and two U.S. senators up for election. While Amy Klobuchar is favored to win, Tina Smith – who replaced Al Franken after he resigned – faces a tough election and is no shoo-in. Nationally there are only about 25 swing House seats in the country, but four of them are in Minnesota. Two of them–Minnesota’s First and Eighth – are currently held by Democrats Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, and neither are running for re-election. These are open seats that have flipped party control over the years and are leaning Republican; both went for Trump in 2016. There are two other House seats, the second and third, respectively held by Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen, that are rated competitive by the Cook Report, but still leaning Republican.

It is possible to argue that Clinton’s narrow victory in Minnesota in 2016 was a fluke – a product of her being a bad candidate or a terrible campaign strategy where after her caucus loss to Bernie Sanders she failed to return to Minnesota to ask for votes. But there are also signs that Minnesota is ready to flip and Trump may not be wrong in his 2020 prediction.

David Schultz is a Hamline University professor of political science. His latest book is “Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter.” He blogs at Schultz’s Take.


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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/25/2018 - 10:27 am.

    Republican resurgence

    “…There is the Democratic appeal to educated urban liberals, often more affluent who look down on or disdain as stupid their rural and suburban counterparts, or those who are working class because they do not share their same interests or lifestyle preferences. There is also the failure of both parties to pay attention to the class and economic concerns of white-working class America. They abandoned class for identity politics. Democrats seem also to have a one-size-fits-all campaign strategy that works well with urban populations but which is not tailored to the suburbs and rural areas.”

    The first sentence paints with far too broad a brush. While I’ve encountered urban liberals who have little patience with the conservative instincts of rural and suburban-dwellers, using the terms “look down on or disdain” seem to me both inaccurate and unnecessarily inflammatory. I expect something more nuanced from Mr. Schultz.

    The rest of the paragraph seems accurate enough in its characterization of the erosion of the Democratic base, though I also think Mr. Schultz mistakenly conflates “rural” and “suburban.” I’ve spent most of my life as a suburban-dweller, and a significant portion on a farm in a rural area. I’ve lived in a “big city” only the past few years. “Rural” and “suburban” are not at all the same thing, and people who live in those areas do not automatically fall into the same political category or alignment.

    One of the ironies, of course, is that, while the GOP has done an excellent job of exploiting “…the economic and cultural fears of rural, suburban, working class America,” that same party, while fanning those fears, continues to actively work ••against** the interests of those same voters. It’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” writ large.

    Schultz may turn out to be correct – maybe Minnesota and some other Midwestern states will join the Republican column – but my ability to predict electoral results is no better than that of plenty of other people, smarter than me, who were convinced there was no way a bigoted know-nothing like Donald Trump could win the White House. We’ve already had multiple reasons as a state to regret that electoral choice, but another will be that, should Republicans score significant victories in the upcoming midterm elections, Minnesotans will not be better off as a result.

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 06/25/2018 - 03:35 pm.


      As someone who lives in the city and has a number of educated Democrat and Republican friends, Mr. Schultz’ observation that educated Democrats look down on their counterparts with distain is accurate. It is also inflammatory.

      Your statement of singling out the Republican party for ‘exploiting’ the fears of its voters is also inflammatory as both parties do a fine job of this.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/25/2018 - 05:31 pm.

        I will go further than Mr. Schoch.

        There is nothing so constant in our society as the easy points to be scored ridiculing the liberals in their godless cities and rhapsodizing the salt-of-the-earth in the heartlands. We on the left have lived our lives being mocked for our values, and we accept it as the way of the world. That “educated urban liberals … look down on or disdain as stupid” their non-urban counterparts “because they do not share their same interests or lifestyle preferences” is not only a canard perpetuated endlessly by the Right and the establishment media, it is another instance of psychological projection.

        To the left, civic engagement is about collaborating to develop laws and norms for the benefit of all. There is no “us” and “them,” and therefore no need to define the “other” as the target of invective. All – in the cities and provinces alike – should enjoy their lives and seek meaning as they define it, provided they do so within the confines of a thoughtful morality. Conversely, to the Right, society is about power, and about defeating the “other,” and hence an “other” must be conjured, demonized and ridiculed. It is this stance that requires a constant attention to the “other” and the choices the other is making.

        Though I do not disdain non-urban folks because of their “interests or lifestyle preferences,” I certainly do disdain them when they exhibit dishonesty or hypocrisy in civic discourse, and for their ongoing insistence on voting for those who loot and damage our nation and injure the future for my children. But that is not disdain about “interests or lifestyle preferences,” it is disdain for the abject failure to meet one’s civic responsibilities.

        • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 06/26/2018 - 05:27 pm.


          I agree with you on many of your points and appreciate them, Mr. Holtman. But to say liberals have lived their lives being mocked as if the same mocking has not been directed at conservatives is seeing things from one direction. Just look at Twitter or even comments on MinnPost and you will find conservative bashing. Candor discussion of the issues often takes to name calling and the discussion is lost to mob rule.

          You have found reasons to show disdain for another group, Such reasons can be found to show disdain for any group. You simply have raised your reasons to a higher level, validating your thoughts.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/25/2018 - 06:00 pm.

        Work of Art

        The GOP has raised the exploitation of fears to an art, constantly campaigning on fear of the Other, despite the admonitions of the Bible they claim as their’s and their’s alone. Democrats are pikers by comparison, not even in the same league, like the Div III and the majors.

        Fear of non-existent hoards crossing the border, fear of Sharia law, fear of non-existent and unproven voter fraud. You’ve to hand it to the GOP, they are they world champs at the politics of resentment.

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 07/02/2018 - 08:47 am.

          A League of Their Own

          The Left and a complicit media, with their exaggeration of school shootings, is targeting candidates that receive contributions and favorable ratings from the NRA. Fear for your children for they may not return from school.

          This NY Mag article sums it up nicely. Excerpt, ” The lurid spectacle of mass shootings concentrates national attention on our gun violence crisis like nothing else does. So, there is a strong tactical temptation to exaggerate the prevalence of such events. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, progressive activists and commentators (including this one) repeatedly claimed that there had been 18 school shootings since the start of this year. When the Washington Post looked into that statistic — and found that it included a suicide in the parking lot of a long-closed elementary school, and that there had only been five incidents that resemble the popular understanding of a “school shooting” — some progressives mocked the paper for its callous pedantry.”

          • Submitted by mary dunigan on 10/04/2018 - 10:57 pm.

            Exaggeration? They aren’t exaggerating ANYTHING and there is a whole generation of kids living in fear for very REAL reasons! How about the fact that politicians get MILLIONS of dollars to prevent any kind of common sense gun reform by the NRA who gets MILLIONS from gun makers? Do you think it’s an exaggeration when they say that Democrats want to abolish the second amendment as a fear tactic? Because NO Democrats have ever said that! WHY does anyone need a gun that can kill HUNDREDS of people within seconds? All we want is common sense gun reform and the regressive rights unwillingness to budge at all is going to backfire on them all and the NRA TOO! There is NOBODY more guilty of fear and hate mongering than the NRA! The gun manufacturers and NRA are getting richer off the blood of OUR KIDS and families and anyone that doesn’t see that doesn’t want to!

  2. Submitted by David Markle on 06/25/2018 - 12:23 pm.

    A lot will depend

    on what happens in the economy, including the agricultural.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/25/2018 - 12:42 pm.

    Jump Ball

    It’s anyone’s how this will turn out. One possibility that I’ve not heard mentioned is that 2016 was the high water mark for the GOP in MN. I would not assume that was the case, but neither would I assume they will finish in a better position in 2018.

    This will likely be determined in part by some factors that may not be on the radar yet. No one could have predicted Katrina, nor how damaging it was to Geo. Bush.

    Another determinant will be any unforced errors in the governor’s race, as well as the ground games and messaging of the the two major party candidates.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/26/2018 - 12:28 pm.

      Unforced errors

      If the DFL goes into November with Murphy/Quade and Ellison on the ballot, Minnesota will be a red state next year.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/25/2018 - 03:59 pm.

    Low Democratic turnout

    It seems to always go unmentioned but it bears repeating. Hilary Clinton won the popular vote nationally but lost in the Electoral College. That was due in part to low democratic turnout in a number of states but also due to voter suppression tactics and of course the gerrymandering that’s been plaguing the country, mostly by GOP controlled State houses. Still, there does remain a schism bin the Democratic Party nationally and locally. I dare say the inability to overcome these differences may play a greater role in re-electing Trump than any positive contribution he or the GOP has to offer.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/25/2018 - 05:55 pm.

      Slow Learner

      And to think that recently Hillary Clinton pointed out that the people who are doing better economically voted for her.

      Can you imagine FDR or LBJ bragging that the poor struggling folks did NOT vote for them? Amazing Clinton still hasn’t figured it out.

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 06/25/2018 - 08:23 pm.


      You can’t gerrymander a presidential election.

      • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 06/26/2018 - 08:47 am.

        Sure you can

        Make enough districts unwinnable for Democrats, and Democratic voters will decide it doesn’t matter whether they vote or not.

        • Submitted by Kyle Thomas on 06/26/2018 - 03:33 pm.

          It’s not gerrymandering

          Get better candidates you will win elections. Barack Obama did win despite all the alleged conspiracies. Try running someone else besides Bill Clinton’s wife.

          • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 06/27/2018 - 08:42 am.

            We did try

            Liberals were much more gung ho about Bernie Sanders than Clinton.

            And lest we forget, Hillary was a very popular candidate; more popular than Donald Trump, as a matter of fact.

      • Submitted by mary dunigan on 10/04/2018 - 10:49 pm.

        Really because THEY DID!

    • Submitted by Kyle Thomas on 06/26/2018 - 03:31 pm.

      Luckily we do not select by the popular vote

      1) Asking for identification is not voter suppression.
      2) Thankfully we elect by the electoral college so the entire union is represented in the White House, vs California and New York.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/26/2018 - 06:50 pm.

        Why does it matter where people live? Why do the votes of people in some states count far more than others. Twice in the last 20 years we have elected a president who got fewer votes. How is that in any way defensible other than the guy you want to win getting elected?

  5. Submitted by John Edwards on 06/25/2018 - 07:26 pm.

    Minnesota’s conservative majority

    Democrats point out that Clinton won the popular vote in Minnesota. What is overlooked is that there were more viable conservative candidates on the ballot than liberal, arguably detracting from Trump’s total.

    Libertarian Gary Johnson received 112,984 and Evan McMullin (a Republican) of the Independence Party 53,083. Darrell Castle of the Constitution (formerly U.S. Taxpayers) Party had 9,457. Add those together and you have 1,498,756.

    Liberal Jill Stein of the Green party received 36,991 votes while Alyson Kennedy of the Socialist workers Party got 1,672. Add those to Clinton’s total and you have 1,404,816 who voted for liberal candidates.

    (Self described independent candidates and several others got a combined total of 39,989.)

    Based on those actual voting results, Minnesota has a (by 93,940 votes) conservative majority.

  6. Submitted by Pat Brady on 06/25/2018 - 08:48 pm.

    When did counting counties become the coin of the realm?

    I have noticed since the election of 2016 that many writers use the county as the unit of measurement in their analysis. I thought the votes are counted by Congressional districts, state senate and congressial districts, and precincts. Why use the metric of counties?
    I live a county, but my congressional district is more than one county. Are all state senate districts in one county or beyond that particular border?
    I live in a urban center, work in a suburb and have roots in rural farms of MN.
    In my poitical life, the Democratic, Farmer, Labor party has supported policies and issues of economic development,, education and social service programs for all. For example, in this election, the abuse and failure of investigating of the elderly in care centers, funding early childhood edcuation, affordable housing and the rise of student debt cuts across rurul, suburban and urban landscape.
    Looking forward this election which will set the direction for Minnesota for the next 2-4 years and in the case of Governor into the redistricting based on the 2020 census.
    Counties are not in peril of any shape shifting when this happens.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/26/2018 - 09:05 am.

    Good Question

    Personally I am losing my faith in America’s ability to be American, I would not have thought there are so many so called patriots that would like to see a dictator run the country. As noted before folks can’t have rational discussions with irrationale folks, and irrational folks are easy to manipulate. The blame game is well know through out history, its called fascism, and America seems to have a bad case of fascism, and it appears to be getting chronic.As Ray pointed out, don’t think it is because of lack of education, looks more like out of desperation. One could say “T” voters are like the folks down at the border, they believe their plight in life is so bad they will grab at any shred of hope, and “T” as dictator in waiting is great at blaming and preaching false hope.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/26/2018 - 09:43 am.

    Democrats have no durable strategy

    The problem with Democrats isn’t that they have a strategy that appeals to a certain type of voter, the problem is they have no durable strategy at all. This was the difference between Clinton and Sanders. Democrats spent decades claiming they were similar to Republicans, and then flipped and ran on the claim that weren’t republicans… wile rejecting liberal proposals out of hand. If you didn’t know better you’d think Democrats were actually trying to alienate voters. People vote for Republicans because they have a clear identity, and a durable message. The Republican message is riddled with dishonest garbage, but the apparent clarity of it gets votes.

    The only way Trump can win MN in 2020 is if Democrats fail to run a liberal candidate with a clear and compelling message and an effective campaign. We’ll see what happens in the mid-terms.

    It’s probably a mistake to view Trump as if he’s just another POTUS. This POTUS is remarkably toxic and incompetent, so it could well be that by the time we get to 2020 the game will have changed dramatically. For instance, these people who think they’re going to get mining jobs on the Iron Range are likely to find that Trump’s trade war will demolish the domestic steel industry. Even if the environmental stuff is bypassed and what-not the US steel industry may collapse, in which case the foreign company behind the deal will pull out. Likewise the farmers who thought a tough guy in the White House would bring them riches may find themselves trying to ring more subsidies out of small-guvmint Republicans who couldn’t even pass a farm bill.

    And yes, MN has been a liberal state, which is why the more centrist and anti liberal the Democratic Party has become… less well it’s candidates do. This is why Sanders was so much more popular than Clinton.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/26/2018 - 12:33 pm.

      A Durable Strategy

      “Vote for us, and you’ll get the new water treatment plant you need.”

      Or waste water treatment plant. Or highway bridge replaced. Or high speed internet.

      This is not rocket science, except for a party that can screw up a one car campaign parade.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/26/2018 - 06:52 pm.


      Why did Clinton get 4 million more votes than Sanders if he was so much more popular?

      • Submitted by Richard Helle on 06/27/2018 - 10:01 pm.

        Party faithful

        Because the primary process was the party faithful. I caucused for Sanders and there were quite a few of us at the District caucus. Most of us were there for the first time. It clearly represented a message I’m not sure the DFL has fully recognized. Was I disappointed Sanders did not get the nomination? Yes. Do I think Sanders would’ve won the general? Yes. Did I have a problem voting for Sec. Clinton? Not a bit. The DFL can sweep the state if the DFL offers practical solutions to the myriad of problems the state’s working class faces. Universal Health Care access, affordable secondary education for everyone, living wages. The issues are not a mystery. Where the courage is to work for solutions is.

  9. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/27/2018 - 09:10 am.

    Here’s How the Republicans Will Win

    They don’t have to do a thing. All the Republicans will have to do is sit back while the Democrats continue their endless bickering over who was to blame for 2016. The Democrats will not get together to deliver anything approaching a cohesive message, leading otherwise persuadable voters to stay home in droves.

    Which will lead to another round of fighting over whom to blame for 2018. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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