What will be Minnesota’s role in selecting the next president? Given Amy Klobuchar’s candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, one might think that it will be considerable. There are good reasons, however, to doubt that outcome.
First, consider Klobuchar’s standing in the already crowded Democratic nomination race. The key state for her candidacy is Iowa, where she needs to score an early success to rise to the top rank of candidates.
The most recent Des Moines Register poll puts her support at 3 percent in Iowa, well behind poll leaders former Vice President Joe Biden (27 percent) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (25 percent). Klobuchar is also trailing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (9 percent), Sen. Kamala Harris of California (7 percent) and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (5 percent).
Those numbers don’t show much chance of an Iowa breakthrough. She’ll need big future momentum to rise from her current place in the Iowa presidential field.
What about the March 3 Minnesota primary?
Perhaps her likely big victory in the March 3 Minnesota primary will give her the necessary boost? Yet accompanying Minnesota are nine other states selecting national convention delegates on March 3. These include California, Harris’ home state; Massachusetts, Warren’s home state; and O’Rourke’s home state of Texas. All of these states award more national convention delegates than Minnesota.
The one way Klobuchar is most likely to bring Minnesota to 2020 prominence would be as the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. That’s certainly possible, but its likelihood is hard to assess so far in advance.
If Klobuchar’s candidacy wanes, perhaps Minnesota will be a vital “swing state” determining the outcome of the 2020 election in the Electoral College? In 2016, Donald Trump came within 1.6 percent of carrying the state’s electoral votes and may mount a spirited campaign in Minnesota in 2020.
A recent set of Gallup opinion surveys registered President Trump’s job approval in the 50 states for 2018. Job approval is a useful indicator of a state’s competitiveness for Trump in 2020.
Trump’s Minnesota approval in ’18 below national average
Trump’s job approval in Minnesota in 2018 averaged 39 percent, below his national average. Minnesota was one of 16 states giving Trump less than 40 percent job approval. The other 15 states in this category are reliably “blue” states quite likely to be carried by the Democratic nominee in 2020.
Minnesota has not gone Republican since 1972, the longest Democratic winning streak among the 50 states. Despite this, the North State has often been a “sucker bet” for GOP presidential candidates, seeming more competitive than it really turns out to be. 2020 may be another year like that.
Nationally, the presidential race looks competitive. Trump is likely to carry states where his job approval is at or near 50 percent in 2018. In 20 states, he registered 48 percent or higher approval, totaling 121 of the 270 electoral votes he needs for re-election. These are mainly southern and western states, including Minnesota’s neighboring states of North and South Dakota.
The competitive states include those with Trump approval between 41 and 47 percent. They allocate a whopping 179 electoral votes and include such vital states as Texas (38 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20) and North Carolina (15). The presidential race looks to be a tight one, but probably one in which Minnesota with its 10 electoral votes does not figure as a top swing state.
Minnesotans carrying hopes for their state’s major role in the 2020 presidential contest, then, should center their aspirations on the prospect of Vice President Amy Klobuchar.
Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Carleton College in Northfield.
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