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Talking politics with Minnesota expats at D.C.’s Vikings bar

The fans were optimistic about football. But they expressed anxiety, hope, and weariness over this historic, nasty and unpredictable campaign season.

Every Sunday during football season, Vikings fans of the Greater Washington area gather at Sine Irish Pub outside a shopping mall in Arlington, Virginia.
MinnPost photo by Sam Brodey

The United States was set to pick its next president in just two days, but at the Sine Irish Pub in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, there were more pressing matters to attend to than politics: Minnesota Vikings football.

A middle-aged man in glasses and a purple Vikings jersey beat a drum next to the hostess’ stand, and the crowd of a few dozen Vikings fans raised their hands above their hands and clapped in unison. “Skol!” they shouted, putting down their $1 mimosas and $3 bloody Marys to take part in the Nordic war chant the team has adopted.

Every Sunday during football season, the Vikings fans of the Greater Washington area gather at this low-key Irish pub outside a shopping mall to cheer on their team. In a region full of transplants from around the country, organizers say this crew is the area’s largest fan club for an out-of-town NFL team.

The Minnesota expats who gathered to watch the Vikings play the Detroit Lions were broadly optimistic about football (despite the fact that the Vikings ended up losing 16-22 in soul-crushing fashion). But they expressed anxiety, hope, and weariness over this historic, nasty and unpredictable campaign season — and more than a little nostalgia for the way politics is done in their home state.

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Todd, an affable federal government employee who declined to give his last name, walked into Sine around kick-off Sunday, wearing the purple Vikings jersey of former quarterback Christian Ponder.

Originally from Lakeville, he moved to the Washington area with his wife less than two months ago. He works in the District of Columbia but lives in Leesburg, Virginia, about an hour away, where there is a hotly contested U.S. House seat.

Todd says he swapped the intense open-seat race to succeed Rep. John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd District for the contest in Virginia’s 10th District. But he seemed a little taken aback at how politics is done in the nation’s capital versus Minnesota. “It’s a lot feistier here,” he said.

Todd will be voting absentee in Minnesota, however. He says he and his wife spent time “making sure we could vote back home… We didn’t want to miss the chance to have our say.” He leans libertarian but, as a government worker with projects to pursue, plans to support Hillary Clinton.

Kevin Sheys, a middle-aged man wearing a Teddy Bridgewater jersey, is from Bloomington but has lived in D.C. for about 20 years. “I’m not surprised Trump hasn’t done well in Minnesota,” he said, adding that Trump’s temperament makes him “uniquely ill-suited” to compete there. “A lot of people who might vote the Republican ticket are re-evaluating the whole issue of Trump’s bad business practices, the race and gender issues,” he said.

When he left Minnesota, Sheys identified as a Republican. “I was a Republican when the Republican Party in Minnesota was more moderate… Rudy Boschwitz, David Durenberger, those were moderate Republicans,” he said. “I’d be a DFLer if I lived there now.”

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Not every Minnesota expat feels the same way. Neil and Liseil Baird, originally from Hibbing, walked into Sine a few minutes before gametime. They are in the D.C. area temporarily and call the town of Bremerton, Washington, home. “It’s been nasty. You have two unpopular candidates,” he said, adding that people are “just trying to pick the least worst option.”

When asked which candidate he’d be supporting, Neil kept it simple. “I’m a Republican,” he shrugged, and headed into the bar.

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Charles Hernick may have a singular perspective on adjusting to life outside of Minnesota politics: a native Minnesotan, he’s now running for Congress in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District.

Hernick, a 35-year-old Republican who grew up in the Twin Cities and graduated from the University of Minnesota, has a tough task ahead of him: this suburban swath of northern Virginia is deep-blue. His opponent, Rep. Don Beyer, won election in 2014 by a 30-point margin.

This area, home to many D.C. professionals, a growing minority population, and some of the wealthiest counties in the country, is not unlike some of the Twin Cities’ suburbs. “I was encouraged to run here because northern Virginia feels a lot like Minnesota,” Hernick said, sitting at Sine’s bar in a denim jacket and a Vikings jersey, accompanied by his campaign manager and his father, who came out from Minnesota to help with the campaign. “It’s a melting pot, a very educated voter base,” he said.

Hernick’s father, Phil, has been surprised by the nasty tone of the politics here, saying that some of his son’s campaign signs have been taken or torn down. “I don’t think that would happen as much [in Minnesota],” he said, “you know, that Minnesota nice kind of thing.”

Hernick says he knows a thing or two about upsets — in college, he was an intern for former Gov. Jesse Ventura — so he’s fine with his own odds, and argued that people shouldn’t underestimate Donald Trump. Even in Minnesota.

“New York bravado and Minnesota nice are at opposite ends of the spectrum,” he admitted, laughing. “Trump will perform better than people think in Minnesota. I think he’s proven himself competitive… It’s tough to say, but I’m reluctant to bet against him.”