Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack believes his Democratic party has a problem. Democrats lost this election cycle, he says, because they neglected the rural voter.
The Minnesota Republican party has the problem in reverse. How does it hold on to the non-metro, non-Republican voters who voted for Donald Trump, which almost allowed him to defeat Hillary Clinton in the state?
The party’s Republican national committeewoman Janet Beihoffer maintains there’s real opportunity given Trump’s showing and the GOP legislative victories that give the party control of the state House and Senate. “The overall deal can be capitalized on because we did flip the Senate and we did increase [the Republican majority in] the House,” she said.
The prospects are especially tantalizing for 2018, when the there’s an open seat for governor. “Do we get someone who runs for governor who understands why those people voted for Trump?” Beihoffer wonders.
Statistically, the Republican party can determine who those voters are. MinnPost reporter Greta Kaul has a good breakdown of where they live and how they have voted in the past. The party can look at other voting patterns to determine whether the voters who gave Clinton the edge will show up in a non-presidential election year.
But the party will need more than data. It will need a candidate that can talk about goals and objectives in a way that resonates. Jobs, the increase of health insurance premiums, and education likely still will be top issues. But a suburban voter’s concern is different from a rural voter’s.
Beihoffer looks at it this way: “Often the metro area worker works on the abstract, on a computer,” she said. “But a manufacturer or a farmer or a construction worker works with the tangible.”
So while a lot of voters may rank education as a top concern, communicating how to reform education will be different from group to group, even if the solution is the same.
The Minnesota Republican Party has another challenge. It can claim no statewide elected politicians. Gov. Mark Dayton and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are not just symbolic leaders of the DFL; they provide the matrix for generally consistent DFL politics and policy.
The Republican party, by contrast, tends to operate in power silos — state House, state Senate, three congressional seats, and the state party itself. Beihoffer and others say that without a current statewide leader, improving intra-party communication is essential if Republicans want a coherent approach to voters — especially Trump voters — in the next election.
And the Republican Party of Minnesota, like the national GOP, has one more question mark: the performance of President Donald Trump. “If he sets a plan to get rid of Obamacare, if he eases business regulations, if he turns education back to the states, the Trump voter stays with Trump,” Beihoffer said.
But if the honeymoon ends quickly, the Trump voter may forget the party that brought him to dance, and Minnesota Republicans may need to reconsider their campaign options leading up to 2018.