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Trump's campaign always knew it could be competitive in Minnesota

Trump's campaign always knew it could be competitive in Minnesota
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Trump supporters attending the Minnesota Republican election night gathering at the Radisson Blu at Mall of America.

Minnesota was always in play for Donald Trump. 

So says his state campaign director and other Trump activists, who maintain that Trump’s narrow loss to Hillary Clinton here is nothing short of a political realignment — and that the DFL and Republican Party of Minnesota had better pay attention.

Trump’s campaign director in Minnesota was Andy Post, a 28-year old from Lakeville who says the Trump campaign recognized the opportunity the state presented shortly after the candidate’s nomination in July. By then, the campaign had the polling to know that there were enough of the kind of voters here they needed put the state in play.

When the campaign asked Post for his advice, he pointed out what he thought was obvious. “I said, ‘What does DFL mean? The second part is farmers and the third part is labor,’ ” Post said. “Farmers don't hate Trump, labor certainly doesn't hate Trump.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton wasn’t paying much attention to Democrats outside of Hennepin and Ramsey counties, leaving Greater Minnesota fertile territory for Trump votes. “Sometimes states go off the grid so long they become sleepers,” Post said. “The other side thinks they're safe.”

Post took on the Minnesota challenge. He had no paid operatives, but he appointed Trump chairs in each congressional district. Those people then identified volunteers who supported Trump with a fervor akin to what Barak Obama created in 2008.

“These people were energized. This was, 'We know we can win and we gotta get out and work, work, work,'” Post said. “I would much rather have the volunteers that we had than the typical ones that show up for the last two weeks of the campaign.”

John Gilmore, a St. Paul author and self-described “conservative who votes Republican,” caught Trump fever even before the GOP primaries. He predicted a year ago that Trump would take it all.

“I saw his appeal to those non-Republican and nontraditional Republican voters, people who had fallen out of the system,” Gilmore said. “We were told as Trump supporters that we were throwing away a sure win because we were fielding the strongest team that was ever put out. But actually Trump was the only Republican that could have beat Hillary Clinton.”

Gilmore believes that Minnesota Republicans, whom he tweaks with regularity in his blog and on Twitter, “don’t understand that Donald Trump has transformed Minnesota politics.”

Certainly, Trump failed to enchant the state’s establishment Republicans. Some GOP sample ballots didn’t even list him as the presidential candidate. Rep. Erik Paulsen told voters in the moderate 3rd Congressional District that he would not vote for Trump.  Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt called for Trump to be disqualified because of remarks Trump made about women.

But with Donald Trump, political leaders weren’t always in step with voters. “A ton of our volunteers came from CD 3,” Post said.  “And I've never seen anyone work more closely with a national campaign” than in the 1st and 8th Congressional Districts.

The Republican Party of Minnesota “never iced us out,” Post added, and supplied the Trump campaign with important voter data. Particularly, Post said, he was looking for mail voters who had not voted early. When he found them, Trump volunteers peppered them with calls, materials, and voting instructions. 

Andy Post
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Andy Post

Post admires how well the Clinton team used the early voting option. “One of the reasons we lost in metro Minnesota was early voting,” he said. “It was smart of them [the Clinton campaign] to coordinate with Minneapolis to get people to the in-person voting sites.” 

Without early voting and the DFL’s estimable get-out-the-vote efforts, it’s possible the Clinton margin of victory could have been tighter or even nonexistent in Minnesota, especially because the Trump operation had what Post called “every campaign director’s dream — to get the candidate the Sunday before the election.”

With little time to prepare and with nonexistent resources, Post harnessed his volunteers to publicize a rally at the Sun Country hangar at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for Sunday, Nov. 6, two days before election day.

“That is kind of the miracle story,” he said. “We posted online to RSVP. That's it. The media led with the story for two days. I knew we didn't have to worry.”

That is an understatement. Twenty thousand people said they would attend; at least 15,000 showed up in Bloomington. Post terms the rallies “old school, but they are effective.”

Post, Gilmore and others question whether either Republicans or Democrats can replicate Trump’s appeal to Minnesota voters, though. “The operation can be replicated,” Post said. “The candidate cannot. Trump was his own turnout machine.”

Still, Trump’s state campaigns made the most of its skeletal operations, leaving Post to speculate about Minnesota. “I can only imagine,” he said, “if we had a little more time or a little more resources, we could have turned it red.”

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Comments (5)

What clarity here, Cyndy!

This is likely the most valuable piece from you in, well, whenever. I've been waiting for an explanation from Minnesota insiders, not forthcoming, I guess. While so many "analysts" defer conclusions by denying realities, you have given readers the "by the new book" answers.

Please follow with factual prospects for the rather threadbare Minnesota "old guard" Republican Party.
I suggest they are done, at least as previously identified. I'd also love to have you look inside the Metro DFL machine, perhaps using Angie Craig's loss as best example. I'm told by a reliable DFLer that Craig's campaign was overtaken by Metro management's negative attack proponents, then transferred directly to national managers in DC. I can think of no writer better situated to explain the horrific success of one Jason Lewis.

Thanks, as usual.

No answers here

“…the [Trump] campaign had the polling to know that there were enough of the kind of voters here they needed put the state in play.” Phrased as delicately as I can manage, it took me only about a year after moving to Minnesota – in 2009, so, long before this election – to reach a conclusion in accordance with that statement. It's not, nor is it intended to be, a compliment to those voters…

Those GOP voters who got tired of

promises not kept by DFL for the past 40 years finally had enough and voted Trump.... Welcome to the rest of the Mid West states. When you hear that folks in "fly over country" cling to "God and guns" (love both), get lectured about how good the economy is for you even though you don't see it, told you can keep your Doctor, will save $2,500 on Healthcare premiums, lose logging, mining, manufacturing jobs by the thousands you change your vote!! I don't think they care one bit whether folks compliment them or not.

Nor surprises, either

It’s sad that promises made have not been kept – by either Republican or Democratic politicians. Sometimes, keeping the campaign pledge is beyond their control. Sometimes, they make the pledge simply to get your vote or mine. That behavior is not party-specific, so I’m not surprised at the support Trump (and Jason Lewis) were able to acquire – they could have run as Gray Party candidates, and they’d still have plenty of support, unfortunately. If your wages haven’t gone up, it’s not Democrats, it’s your employer to whom you should be giving the evil eye. Republicans, modern ones, at least, generally oppose wage increases as a matter of course.

Not the only, but almost surely the best approach to health care is a European one, which minimizes (and sometimes eliminates) financial incentives for both providers and insurers. That would take care of keeping your doctor, since there’s be no “networks” to worry about, and would save even more on health care premiums. Most industrial countries closely regulate what insurers can charge, what they pay providers, and in some cases, eliminate insurers altogether – your health care is already paid for via income taxes, so there’s no out-of-pocket expense when you see the doctor or must go to the hospital. They provide better health care (measured by disease rates and cure and/or outcome rates) and at much lower cost than in the U.S.

Logging and mining jobs ebb and flow no matter who’s in charge, and have done so pretty much since logging and mining became viable industries. They will become even more scarce as we increasingly realize that poisoning the water sources of a couple million Minnesotans for hundreds of years isn’t a reasonable tradeoff for 20 years’ worth of good-paying jobs for a couple thousand loggers and another couple thousand miners. Those people will need to find different careers and ways of life, just as many thousands of others have had to do since the industrial revolution began. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared because business owners could get the work done for less money in another country, and thus could make more money by moving the jobs to that other country. Polaris has done exactly that since I moved here – moving several hundred jobs to Mexico. Most, though certainly not all, of those manufacturers lobby various levels of government as Republicans, or as part of Republican organizations. If you’re willing to work for 2/3 or even 1/2 of your current wage, let your employer know. Finally, I don’t expect Trump voters to care whether I compliment them or not. It is their right to vote against their own interests if they so desire. Humans are widely known to behave irrationally. I've done it myself from time to time…

Let's check the numbers!

Under Mark Dayton, the state has lost 700 mining and logging jobs, but gained 20,000 manufacturing jobs.

Under Tim Pawlenty, logging and mining jobs were flat, and the state lost 51,000 manufacturing jobs. And before you blame the Great Recession, let's point out that the state lost manufacturing jobs even before the Great Recession hit.

(All data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)