The Republican Party officers in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District have decided not to put presidential candidate Donald Trump on the sample ballot mailed to voters in the western suburbs. It’s a conspicuous decision that defines the dilemma the party is facing in this election — and for the future.
“I wouldn’t say it was a controversial decision,” said Danny Nadeau, deputy chair of the district’s executive committee. “It was a hard decision.”
Difficult or not, the decision led Barb Sutter, a member of the executive committee, to resign in protest, along with another member, Sheri Auclair. Sutter, who is also secretary of the state Republican Party, said: “They are not doing what the party stands for, which is supporting our candidates.”
But Nadeau argues that candidate support is precisely why the decision was made.
“The district is focused on the congressional race and down-ballot races,” he said, referring to Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who represents the 3rd District in Congress, and who is in a competitive race against DFL state Sen. Terri Bonoff. “It was hard for long-term Republican people to look at this and ask, ‘Is the presidential candidate going to help or hurt?’. The questions had never come up before. But forget about the discussion. Get rid of the emotion. It was a decision based on the best available data that we had.”
Nadeau and other Republicans in the 3rd District have watched the change of legislative seats from Republican to DFL over multiple cycles, most notably the election of a DFL state senator and representatives in the former GOP stronghold of Edina. The district voted for President Barack Obama twice.
Trump’s emergence as the GOP nominee prompted the Democratic Party to dedicate time and money to defeat four-term incumbent Paulsen. “You can see the challenge we face as Republicans in the third congressional district,” Nadeau said. “When Republicans lose races in the third, we don’t get them back.”
That is why Paulsen has targeted ticket-splitting independents, emphasizing his bipartisan accomplishments. “I’m one of only 34 members of the House in either party that had bills signed into law by the president this year,” Paulsen said in an interview after a Richfield campaign appearance.
When asked if thought the party needed more Republicans like him he responded, “I think we need more people that are willing to work together to get some stuff done, yeah.”
Paulsen said again he plans on writing in Marco Rubio’s name for president. Sutter, for one, said she respects his campaign strategy and individual decision, but maintains the Trump snub on the sample ballot was wrong. “I think it sets a bad precedent,” she said. “What if we have a gubernatorial endorsement and we decide he or she is not our cup of tea? When does this end?”
It ends if the Republican Party can manage to hold on to the motivated, traditional base that still exists in the 3rd Congressional District while absorbing the new forces that put Trump at the top of the ticket. It won’t be easy. Many Trump supporters are not GOP activist material; they are unhappy voters who want to throw all the bums out.
What’s more likely is that the rift that Trump has created among the 3rd District’s rank-and-file Republicans will remain — regardless of whether Trump wins or loses.
Correction: The original version of this story stated that in the 2014 governor’s race, Gov. Mark Dayton won the 3rd Congressional District over GOP challenger Jeff Johnson. In fact, Johnson won the district by 3 points.