Minnesota has given its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since 1976. That’s 11 straight. That’s the longest blue streak in the country.
You can dismiss that longest streak part as a bit of a fluke if you like, because in 1984, when our native son Walter Mondale was the Democratic nominee, he carried just one state (ours, plus the District of Columbia).
But leaving that slight flukiness aside, going blue in 11 straight presidential elections is the beginning of an argument that Minnesota should be considered a pretty darn blue state, certainly in national elections, and notwithstanding how shockingly close the current incumbent in the White House came to carrying Minnesota in 2016. (The margin ended up being Hillary Clinton by 1.52 percent, to keep Minnesota’s blue streak alive.)
A passing reference to ‘purple’
Why bother with the argument about how blue we are? I was set off by a passing reference, by an out-of-town columnist, quoted in a Strib story Sunday, about the possibility that Sen. Amy Klobuchar might run for president. The columnist (Philadelphian Will Bunch) said:
If you went into the lab and ran Tuesday’s algorithms to design the perfect Dem for 2020, she would look almost exactly like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who won a landslide re-election in her purple state on Tuesday.
He’s not the only one saying such things about Klobuchar. And although she been coyer than other likely 2016 presidential candidates, she’s on every pundit’s list of Democratic presidential wannabes, and has been climbing in the (silly but addictive) likeliest next Dem presidential nominee rankings that people are publishing. CNN’s latest list has her at No. 4.
It’s no big deal that a Philadelphia columnist called us purple. Not the wrongest thing I’ve ever heard. In fact, you could make a case for it, but I think you’d have to overlook much of the evidence to do so. So I just felt like amassing the evidence that Minnesota is more accurately described as a fairly blue state. There are hints of purple, but not nearly enough to justify assigning us that color.
The case? Start with this:
The last time Minnesota gave its electoral votes to the Republican presidential nominee was the Nixon landslide of 1972, when Nixon carried every state except Massachusetts. Before that it was the 1956 Eisenhower landslide over Adlai Stevenson in 1956. So that’s 11 straight presidential elections and 14 out of 15, since we liked Ike. Yes, Minnesota was once a very Republican state. It went for Abe Lincoln both times he ran. And stayed Republican until FDR in 1932. Starting in 1932, its electoral votes have gone to the Democratic nominee 16 out of the last 19 presidential elections. How do you get “purple” out of that history?
According to Morning Consult, Trump’s most recent Minnesota approval rating was 41 percent, tied for the 11th lowest among the 50 states. Shouldn’t that be an offset against how close Trump came on Election Day?
But this little diatribe isn’t about Trump. It’s about whether Minnesota is best understood as a purple state. I say no.
DFL domination in U.S. Senate races
In U.S. Senate elections, since the 1944 merger of the Democrats and the Farmer-Labor parties to form the modern DFL, and counting only regular (not special) elections, the DFL nominees have won 17, compared to eight for the Republicans. I call that domination — not total, but domination, by one party.
It took longer for the DFL to establish dominance in U.S. House elections, and perhaps dominance is too strong a word. But the last time the Republicans won a majority of our eight U.S. House seats was the 1968 election (five Republicans/three DFLers). Since then, the most common outcome has been a 5-3 DFL majority in our delegation, although there have been several 4-4 ties and a couple of 6-2 DFL wins. The 5 Dem/3 Repub split this year was interesting mostly because four of our eight seats changed parties, but since the four changes included two Republican pickups and two DFL pickups, we ended up with a 5-3 DFL majority in our U.S. House delegation, which was where we started.
The Minnesota governorship has been the area of weakest DFL domination in recent history. Republicans clearly dominated that office before the D-FL merger. Four straight Republican governors held office from 1938-1954. But that’s ancient history.
Since then, DFLers have won the majority of the races but the office has gone back and forth often. The recent victory of DFLer Tim Walz — and by a double-digit 54-42 percent margin — after two terms of DFLer Mark Dayton, marks the first three-term winning streak of either party since DFLer Orville Freeman won three straight back in the 1950s (when the gubernatorial terms were just two years long). And, of course, there was the one-term of Independence Party nominee Jesse Ventura.
So you could make a case for purplishness if you focused just on governors. And if you look at partisan ups and downs in the state Legislature, it’s a similar pattern to what I described above about our U.S. House delegation. In the last 24 sessions, the DFL has held the majority in state House 15 times to eight for the Republicans and one tie. Although it should be said that most of those Republican-led Houses were recent, and it should be said that if you looked only since 2000, Republicans have controlled the House for more sessions than the DFL has. But, in November, the DFL won a very solid 75-59 majority. Is that purple?
Historically, DFL control of the Minnesota state Senate has been even stronger, 21 out of the last 24, although again, two of the three Republican-controlled-Senate sessions have been recent, including the past two sessions. I don’t want to overstate my case. After a long period of DFL domination of the Legislature, the last decade has been closer to parity.
The statewide constitutional offices
But that’s not true of the statewide constitutional offices, other than the governorship. The other statewide offices have been dominated – and that’s a weak term in several of the instances – for decades by the DFL.
Before DFLer Keith Ellison won the office of Minnesota attorney general this month, DFLers had held that office for (this is not a typo) 60 of the last 64 years.
Before DFLer Steve Simon was re-elected as Minnesota secretary of state, a DFLer had already run that office for 36 of the last 44 years.
The office of state auditor has been different (and complicated because one auditor switched parties during her second term, but accounting for that) the two parties have split that office fairly evenly since 1975 (although Republicans completely dominated it for decades before that. Republicans controlled the office for 21 out of the last 38 years. But DFLer Julie Blaha won the office this month.
Philadelphian columnist Bunch won’t be the last one to call Minnesota purple. And I’ll defend to the death his right to do so, as well as my right to disagree.