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Checking in on voters at the crossroads of Minnesota: Tobies

When asked their thoughts on the election, more than one visitor to Tobies simply shook their heads.

If you wanted to take Minnesota’s political temperature in one place, a week out from the election, Tobie’s wouldn’t be a bad place to do it.
MinnPost photo by Sam Brodey

Take a drive up I-35 in October and you’ll see that familiar election-year roadside vegetation — the crops of signs for candidates from White House to statehouse sprouting up from the browning grass.

But in 2016, the signage obscures the reality that Minnesota — a state that prides itself on its pious observance of the rituals of politics — is a lot like the rest of America: just about totally burned out on an election that has seemed like a two-year slog, unending and impossibly negative.

In Hinckley, an hour up the road from the Twin Cities, sits Tobies. The bakery and restaurant is famous — “world famous,” the signs say — for its massive caramel rolls, which draw people from hours away.

If you wanted to take Minnesota’s political temperature in one place, a week out from the election, Tobies wouldn’t be a bad place to do it.

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But on a rainy and windy Halloween, visitors to World Famous Tobies chit-chatted about anything — the bad weather, the upcoming Vikings game — anything, seemingly, but the election careening to the finish line in seven days.

“I wouldn’t vote for either Trump or Hillary if you paid me,” said Debbie, a middle-aged woman with streaks of blue dyed into her short hair. Debbie, who declined to give her full name, had driven down from Virginia, on the Iron Range, with her husband, Joe.

Debbie has voted for a Democrat for president her whole life, but says she plans to vote for the Libertarian party nominee, Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico.

She called Clinton and Trump a “crook and an idiot,” respectively. Joe suggested he may write in Mickey Mouse.

An older man in a cap named Larry, a native of Hinckley and also a lifelong Democrat, said he was reluctantly going with Clinton, though he qualified his endorsement by saying she and Trump were “both the worst option.”

Peter Kraminsky, from Duluth, could be one of the few Americans who says there is something he likes about both candidates. Still, he said Trump “scares me,” and said he’d be voting Democratic for president, though he did not mention Clinton’s name.

When asked their thoughts on the election, more than one visitor to Tobies simply shook their heads. One middle-aged man in a blue shirt, pulling up in a large red pickup, laughed out loud when asked about the election. “It’s just bizarre,” he said, smiling.

An older woman leaving the restaurant stopped for a moment as she opened the glass door. What did she think about the election? “He’s a bully,” she muttered, and walked away.   

There were a few vocal backers of Clinton passing through Tobies. (MinnPost did not encounter any Trump supporters.)

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But Clinton’s supporters weren’t much more sanguine about this election than the guy who wanted to write in a cartoon character for president.

Katie, a woman driving down to St. Paul from Duluth, has volunteered to help get out the vote for Clinton and Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, who is in a nationally-watched race against Republican Stewart Mills. She said Trump was “very dangerous to our democracy … and to basic humanity.”

She said the election has been eye-opening in at least another way: She said she is married to a black man, and that the Trump signs that have flowered on her block have let her family know, as she said, “where we’re not welcome.”

A man in a dress shirt identifying himself as Bob from Minneapolis said he “proudly” supports Clinton.

Clutching a box of donuts and a bag of caramel rolls, he mourned the circumstances: “What’s sad is we could’ve been really excited by the landmark experience of finally electing a woman” as president, Bob said.

In a common refrain from all sides, Bob said the media has done Clinton a disservice and is “no longer responsible.”

Some passing through Hinckley found relief from the toxicity of the presidential race in down-ballot contests, like the one between Nolan and Mills.

Debbie, who said she is supporting Nolan, said she’d be far less enthusiastic about voting at all if there were not such a competitive race in the 8th District — one in which she said her vote actually mattered.

She and Joe walked to their Buick, their pilgrimage to Tobies complete. There was one thing, at least, to look forward to.

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“I’m going to go home,” Debbie said, “and watch the Vikings game with my dogs.”