In his first visit to Minnesota as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump did something out of character — he avoided the spotlight.
Last Friday, Trump came to Minneapolis for a quiet fundraiser, featuring few of the bold-faced names in GOP politics that accompanied the appearances of, say, the last Republican presidential nominee.
No airport-hangar rally. No screaming fans. No surrogates. Like a Delta-flying business traveler, he was in and out of MSP in a flash.
His quick trip might reflect what Minnesota political-watchers have long known: the GOP presidential nominee just isn’t that popular up here, despite his campaign’s insistence it will compete in the North Star State.
But Trump’s relative unpopularity here extends beyond whether or not the candidate could fill an arena. With some exceptions, Minnesota’s big-name GOP donors are sitting on their pocketbooks as the Make America Great Again hat is being passed around.
Trump outpaced from the get-go
When he began his insurgent campaign, Trump — whose real net worth is unknown, though the candidate claims he is worth $10 billion — said he would eschew PACs and wealthy donors, instead pledging to self-fund the bulk of his campaign.
But as his bare-bones, low-overhead effort catapulted him into the general election, Trump has balked at paying the cost a national campaign — so he is now courting major GOP donors and soliciting small-dollar donations.
As Federal Election Commission fundraising records for this cycle show, Trump has had difficulty with donors across the board in Minnesota.
As of the last filing, which covers to the end of July 2016, Trump’s campaign had raised $362,588 in Minnesota from 3,852 contributors, who gave an average of $94 each. The median contribution was $40.
Eighteen Minnesotans gave the general election maximum contribution of $2,700. About a third of contributors gave $50 or less.
Great America PAC, which is allied with Trump, did not fare particularly well in Minnesota, either. The most recent data for the PAC — aside from its top-line receipt of $7.5 million to date, nationwide — was not available. But through the end of June, only 16 Minnesotans contributed, giving a total of $4,535. The most common amount given was $5.
The July filing, which was released over the weekend, was relatively good news for the Trump campaign — his Minnesota haul nearly doubled from June.
Still, even months after his last challenger dropped out, two of Trump’s former GOP presidential rivals remain ahead of him in the dollar count in Minnesota: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz still leads Minnesota Republican fundraising, netting $548,000, while Dr. Ben Carson pulled in $417,500.
And Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has found Minnesota to be fertile fundraising ground: to date, she has raised $2.6 million in the state.
Big donors on the sidelines
To this point, those Minnesotans who donate most frequently and most generously to Republican candidates and causes have, largely, not given to Trump’s campaign.
Several top GOP donors, as of most recent FEC filings, gave to their preferred primary candidate, and have not contributed to Trump since he secured the party’s nomination.
If history is any guide, Trump may not have much to hope for from these donors. In past cycles, big Minnesota donors have often given to their preferred candidate in the primary, but not gone on to contribute to the eventual Republican nominee.
Take Bill Cooper, the former TCF Bank CEO: in 2012, he gave over $10,000 to former Rep. Michele Bachmann and her PAC, but did not give to Mitt Romney. This year, he gave $2,700 to the campaign of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Bill Austin, founder of hearing technology company Starkey Hearing, and his wife, Tani, are reliable GOP donors. They gave $7,500 to the brief campaign of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2012 and then did not give to Romney’s campaign. In 2016, they collectively gave $5,400 to Jeb Bush.
Irwin Jacobs, a Twin Cities entrepreneur, gave the maximum personal contribution to Bush — $5,400 — and has yet to donate to Trump. Jacobs gave $2,300 to the campaign of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008, and then did not give to Sen. John McCain. (Jacobs sat out the 2012 primary but did give $5,000 to Romney during the general election.)
Some Minnesota donors who have shown a willingness to financially back the eventual nominee, though, have not yet given to Trump.
Robert and Joan Cummins, of Deephaven, are among Minnesota’s top Republican donors. Robert founded two technology companies, focused on printing and DVD-BluRay disc products, and the couple has given millions to Republican causes over the years and is deeply involved in state politics.
They gave $5,400 to Cruz, and no money to any other presidential candidate.
In 2012, they spread the wealth as their preferred candidates lost out to Romney. Joan Cummins gave $5,000 to Pawlenty and $2,500 to the nomination runner-up, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, before giving $5,000 to the Romney campaign.
Not every GOP donor who backed another candidate is holding out. Terrance Dolan, a top executive at US Bank and a reliable GOP donor, contributed the maximum $5,400 to Rubio, and then gave $5,400 to Trump in July.
The Hubbard exception
The silver lining for Trump is that the main exception to his Minnesota fundraising woes is the state’s most prolific GOP donor — Stan Hubbard.
The Twin Cities communications magnate has given millions to Republicans in Minnesota and elsewhere over the years. Now, he finds himself the New York millionaire’s reluctant cheerleader in the North Star State.
Throughout this cycle, Hubbard has hardly been a Trump fan, donating to nearly every GOP candidate before finally supporting Trump. He gave $50,000 to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s PAC, then donated to Bush, Rubio, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as Walker cratered, then gave to Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as they became the last non-Trumps standing.
In February, Hubbard even cut a $10,000 check to the NeverTrump-aligned Our Principles PAC.
Sixteen defeated candidates and $94,000 anti-Trump dollars later, Hubbard came around to the GOP nominee, donating $50,000 to Trump’s Great America PAC in May and June and $5,400 to his campaign in July.
Hubbard was a co-host of Trump’s Minneapolis fundraiser, and in the Star Tribune ahead of the Friday confab, he explained why he had come around. “One of them is going to be president, right?” Hubbard asked.
“So I say who’s going to pick the Supreme Court judge I prefer? Who’s going to pass more regulations that cost me and you and every consumer more money? Who’s going to keep spreading nonsense about global warming? That’s why I have to vote for Trump.”
Playing catch up
Though his campaign is touting progress, Trump still has work to do if he hopes to catch up with Clinton — at least in the money race — in Minnesota.
In 2012, Minnesota Republicans were generous with Romney, giving him over $7 million during the whole cycle, placing him just $100,000 behind President Obama in the state. Still, Romney lost Minnesota by over seven points.
Trump would need to raise about $85,000 per day in Minnesota, for the rest of his campaign, simply to match Romney’s 2012 haul.
Trump will almost certainly improve his fundraising in Minnesota and elsewhere — his July numbers were his campaign’s best fundraising month to date. The question now is how much Trump will improve by.
Andy Post, spokesman for the Trump campaign in Minnesota, sounded an optimistic tone in a statement to MinnPost. He said the fundraiser “includes many of Minnesota’s most important supporters who have come together to support Mr. Trump’s campaign for a stronger, more prosperous America.”
“We’re excited about the momentum we’re experiencing both from new donors and new grassroots supporters.”