Among the shocks of election night 2016 was how close Donald Trump came to carrying Minnesota. In the end, he lost it to Hillary Clinton by 46.1 to 44.6 percent.
Minnesota has gone blue in every election since 1976. That’s 11 in a row, the longest blue winning streak of any state. But the small size of the margin took a lot of people, me included, by surprise. As a result, our state, among the bluest of the blue over recent cycles, entered the discussion as a possible swing state in 2020.
According to a Strib story on Sunday, Team Trump is targeting our dear state for 2020, or so say some Trumpers who are quoted in the story, which included this:
“We’re really excited to be very, very ahead of the curve as far as historically staffing up, especially in a state that the president came within 44,000 votes of flipping last time,” said Stephanie Alexander, the Midwest regional field director for Trump Victory, a joint effort by the Republican National Committee and the president’s re-election campaign. “This is the first time this has ever been done,” she added.
The early infusion of GOP resources reflects a growing perception that Minnesota could be a battleground state — a status it has rarely been accorded in modern presidential politics. Nominees from both parties are expected to aggressively court voters across the Upper Midwest after narrow wins in states like Michigan and Wisconsin sealed Trump’s path to victory in 2016. Campaign manager Brad Parscale told the political news site Axios that Minnesota is one of the campaign’s top pickup targets for next year’s election.
Color me skeptical. I know of just one fact to support the idea that Minnesota is a promising pickup target for Trump in 2020, and you already read it above. It’s not irrelevant that Trump came close in 2016, but it’s not irrelevant that no Democratic ticket has lost Minnesota since Nixon-Agnew beat McGovern-Shriver in 1972.
So how about we look at a few measures that are a bit more recent than either 1972 or even 2016.
We had an election in 2018. Donald Trump wasn’t on the ballot, but the usual two parties were. One of those is the party of Trump and the other party (the DFL) is the party of not-Trump. The DFL won all of the statewide races, and none of them was close.
DFLers won races for all of the statewide constitutional offices — by margins ranging from 10 (governor’s race) to four (attorney general) percentage points.
The DFL won five of the eight races for the U.S. House of Representatives, and if you moosh all eight races together, Minnesotans preferred the Dems by 55.1 to 43.7. Both Senate seats were on the ballot, and the Democrat won one of them by 24 percentage points and the other by 11. (If you’re inclined to do so, you can discount that because of the popularity of incumbent DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar.)
The DFL nominee (not an incumbent) won the governorship by 11 points, and Democrats won all the other statewide races for statewide constitutional offices by margins of from two to nine points.
In 2018, DFLers flipped 18 seats from red to blue to take over majority control of the state House of Representatives. Republicans, who held a one-seat margin going into the election, flipped zero from blue to red. The state Senate was not on the ballot, but will be in 2020. Republicans control it narrowly and added one of their numbers after 2018 via special election. Which seems more likely, that Trump will carry Minnesota, or that the DFL will win control of the state Senate?
The latest measure of Trump ‘s state-by-state-by-state approval ratings that I could find online was by Morning Consult from June. It showed him 16 percentage points under water (more disapprovers than approvers) in Minnesota.
According to the Strib story, Minnesota’s unfailingly civil and upbeat Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan recently attended a picnic on the White House lawn. Said the story:
As they posed for a selfie, the state GOP leader thanked the president for making three visits to the state since taking office.
“I told him, ‘We appreciate you coming and we hope to see you here at least as many times before the election next year,’” Carnahan said.
The president’s response: “I will be there.”
It’s a free country with open borders (between states, that is). You will continue to see Minnesota on the list of states Team Trump thinks it can flip into its column in 2020. And I don’t claim to know the future, but I think my evidence above bodes well for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 in Minnesota.
The closeness of the 2016 presidential race in Minnesota shocked me and many others. It could shock me even more if he carried the state in 2020, especially given the Democratic strength and Republican weakness demonstrated in 2018, which, if my math is correct, is closer than 2016 to 2020.
But the whole Trump phenomenon has taught me that the future is not always knowable. We don’t know whom the Democrats will nominate to run against him, nor even what adorable nickname His Excellency will apply to that candidate. So stay tuned.