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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Minnesota shows few signs of flipping — despite Trump's best efforts


Donald Trump has fixated on Minnesota since his narrow loss to Hillary Clinton there four years ago. But with less than a month until the election, his prospects there are dimming.

Joe Biden’s polling lead remains solid. Even after heavy campaign spending and recent visits to the state by the president and top surrogates, Biden was running ahead of Trump by more than 9 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.

“I haven’t heard from anyone on the Republican side who’s to some degree confident,” said Michael Brodkorb, a former deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party. “I think the best you’ll hear from a Republican in Minnesota is they think that the race is close.”

Four years ago, it was close. Trump lost the state by fewer than 45,000 votes, and immediately after the election began signaling his infatuation with Minnesota. It was one of his few offensive opportunities on the 2020 battleground map.

If he could limit his losses in the Twin Cities and their suburbs and run up turnout in more rural, conservative reaches of the state, Republicans and Democrats alike believed he had a credible chance of winning — something no Republican has done since Richard Nixon in 1972.


The president has traveled to Northern Minnesota twice in recent weeks in an effort to juice his base in a region culturally distant from the Democratic-heavy cities Minneapolis and St. Paul. Before largely white crowds in Bemidji in mid-September and Duluth two weeks ago, Trump mocked Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American and former refugee who represents a Minneapolis-based district. At both events, he said Biden would “turn Minnesota into a refugee camp.”

“History suggests Minnesota is an uphill climb for any Republican candidate for president,” Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota, said in an email. “But Trump has a better shot than most.”

The problem for Trump is that the numbers aren’t breaking for him the way they did in 2016. Four years ago, Trump won Minnesota white voters by 7 percentage points and independents by 2 percentage points. It was a major advantage in a state where 87 percent of voters that year were white.

But Biden is now carrying both of those groups — whites by 2 points and independents by 20 percentage points, according to a CBS News/YouGov survey. Even among whites without college degrees, Trump’s most reliable demographic, Biden has cut sharply into Trump’s lead, according to the poll.

In part, that has more to do with Biden than with Trump. One reason Trump came close to carrying Minnesota four year ago was that Clinton alienated many voters there, especially in rural western areas of the state and in northeastern Minnesota, in and around the blue-collar Iron Range. Trump only drew about as many votes in Minnesota that year as Mitt Romney did in his losing effort four years earlier, but Clinton’s underperformance put the state in play.

Biden appears to be a far more palatable nominee for Democrats. His profile is less like Clinton's than that of the state’s moderate Democratic governor, Tim Walz, who won office in 2018 by more than 11 percentage points. With a relatively high approval rating, Walz is a benefit to Biden in the state, and the two appeared together in Duluth last month.

In addition, Biden is bombarding the state with paid advertising, overwhelming Trump's presence there. Throughout September, as early voting began in Minnesota, Biden spent nearly $6 million on TV and radio in Minnesota, more than double what Trump spent, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Trump, meanwhile, appears to be cutting back.

“There was definitely concern in early September that the race was tightening here,” said Ken Martin, chairman of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. “But right now, we feel very good about the position we’re in … This is an election where I wish the election were tomorrow.”

It has already started. By Friday, the state had recorded more than 635,000 ballots cast, still weeks before Election Day. Minnesota does not register voters by party, but Democrats and Republicans expected a large majority of the early vote to tilt Democratic, with Republicans more likely to vote on Election Day.

Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said “it’s still a very tight race."

Carnahan and other Republicans in Minnesota believe, as Trump supporters do elsewhere, that polls are under-counting Trump’s support. On the same night that Trump campaigned in Duluth, Chuck Novak, the mayor of Ely, a small town at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, marveled at the size of a recent “Trump train” of supportive motorists. And he said he is certain that other Trump supporters remain hesitant to share publicly — or with pollsters — their true feelings about the president. In his Iron Range city, he said he knows who they are “if they have a pro-mining sign” on their lawn.

As for the polls, Novak said, “I like the polls the way they’re reading. I do, because it will keep the Democrats home on Election Day.”




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