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Could Trump turn Minnesota red in 2020? Anything’s possible, but there’s little evidence to support the case

If Team Trump thinks Minnesota looks promising for them, I’d hate to see what looks unpromising.

Supporters gathered to rally with then-nominee Donald Trump in a cargo hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Nov. 6, 2016.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

One of the most famous Yogi Berra-isms is that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” I agree, with full knowledge that we won’t stop trying to see the future, or guess at it.

Political strategists in presidential cycles have to play the game of guessing whether one state or another might do something different than it has done over recent cycles. Donald Trump’s team in 2016 saw signs that it could flip some states in the so-called “Blue Wall,” so-called because they had given their electoral votes to the Democratic ticket five or more times in a row.

And, as you know, they got three big ones, Michigan and Pennsylvania (which had gone blue six straight times), and Wisconsin (seven straight). And that is one big way of explaining how Trump won an Electoral College majority. (He lost the national popular vote, in case you hadn’t heard.)

And, if you stayed up late watching the returns in November 2016, as I did, you may recall wondering, “Why aren’t they declaring Minnesota for the Democratic ticket?” as I did. Before Election Day, few of the know-alls had rated Minnesota as a likely swing state. In the end, the Clinton-Kaine ticket eked out a win in Minnesota by a shockingly small 1.5 percentage point margin.

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On Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said: “Obviously, we have to go back and win Michigan again, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. We plan on also being in Minnesota very soon.”

Of course they will. They’d be crazy not to focus on those states, the three former “blue wall” states they carried in 2016 by a combined 78,000 votes, and Minnesota. And the results in those four states might well determine the outcome. (I say “might well,” since I know nothing along these lines is certain a year and a half out, and I doubt anyone who says they do know.)

But I’m here to argue that there is little evidence to suggest the Trump has much chance of turning Minnesota red. Here’s some evidence for that statement:

Minnesota has been bluer than the other blue wall states that turned red in 2016. Minnesota has the current longest blue streak in presidential elections of any state, by far. The streak is 11 presidential elections. Minnesota last gave its electoral votes to the Republican nominee in 1972, the year Richard Nixon carried 49 states against George McGovern. Massachusetts (my native state) was the only one he didn’t get, which led to bumper stickers that I recall over the ensuing rough Watergate years that read: “Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.”

Minnesota’s longest-streak thing results from a similar fluke, true, because Ronald Reagan carried the other 49 states in 1984 against native-son Walter Mondale.

Still, in the seven presidential elections since 1972, Minnesota has remained true to the blue, mostly by solid margins, until last time. Another bit of ancient-but-notable history: Since 1932, Democratic presidential nominees have gone 19-3 in carrying the Gopher State in presidential elections. That’s not a fluke.

But it’s way more than that. The evidence for Minnesota’s blue-ness runs through all the statewide races going back to the 1950s. DFLers have won the last three governor’s races, all by solid margins. Before that, we had two terms of Tim Pawlenty, however you classify him on the moderate-to-conservative Republican spectrum. And there was Jesse Ventura, whatever that indicates.

But in the big picture, although there have been Republican governors (though generally moderate progressive ones, like Arne Carlson and Al Quie) during a 70-year span that started after the Dems and the Farmer-Labor party merged, the state has had 18 years of Republicans in the governor’s office, compared to 36 for the DFL when Tim Walz comes up for re-election in 2022.

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There has been roughly comparable DFL domination in recent history of races for the other top statewide elective offices, secretary of state and attorney general.

Of course, all that could be dismissed as ancient history — if we hadn’t had a very recent election. After Trump came close in to carrying the state in 2016, 2018 was a colossal sweep for DFLers, winning all of the statewide races and a solid majority in the state House of Representatives. (Republicans control the state Senate, but Senate seats weren’t on the ballot in 2018.)

Minnesota’s races for Congress in 2018 went five for the DFL and three for the Republicans, which preserved the status quo. Both Senate seats were on the ballot. Both went for the DFLers. Tina Smith won by a double-digit margin, and Amy Klobuchar won by 24 points.

You can quibble with some of this, I suppose, but the evidence against Minnesota being classifiable as a solid blue state is hard to find.

Yes, sure, presidential elections are different and special, and anything might happen in 2020. We don’t have much of clue whom the Dems will nominate against Trump and all that. And whoever it is, Team Trump will focus more on driving the opponent’s numbers down, by such mature tactics as assigning the opponent a derogatory nickname.

I don’t believe in making predictions and I’m not. I’m just talking about things that have happened, and things that can be measured now. Even stupid things like approval ratings. Not that you can take those to the bank of course but …

On this page, Morning Consult, which takes approval polls, enables you to track the approval ratings of President Trump, state by state, and month by month Trump’s inauguration. In January of 2017, Donald Trump’s Minnesota approval rating, according to Morning Consult, was a three points above water (meaning three percentage points higher approval than disapproval). By April 2017, it was nine points below water. By July of that year, it was minus 17. By November it broke through the 20-below barrier. During 2019, it has fluctuated from the low-teens to the high-teens in percentage points below water. The most recent number on there is for March: minus 14. I can find only ten states where it’s worse.

All I’m saying is that, if this is evidence for the Trump team that Minnesota looks promising for them, I’d hate to see what looks unpromising.