Kaufman: Will Trump finally turn Minnesota red?

With 11 weeks to Election Day, there’s some encouraging news for Team Trump.

Political observers around the Land of 10,000 Lakes are cognizant that no Republican presidential candidate has claimed our state’s 10 Electoral College votes since Richard Nixon in 1972 — the longest “blue streak“ of anywhere in the U.S. Minnesota was also the only place other than Washington D.C. to vote against President Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984 when Walter Mondale carried his home state by just a few thousand votes

According to a poll released last week, President Trump is within striking distance of ending that run in November. If that survey is accurate, the state currently is a toss up. Emerson polling found 50 percent of likely Minnesota voters planned to vote for Joe Biden, compared to 47 percent for Trump. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton took the state by only 44,000 votes.

The U.S. Senate race between Jason Lewis and Tina Smith is similarly tightening, with Emerson showing Smith holding a 48 to 45 percent lead. Minnesota last voted for a Republican senator in 2002, and the GOP hasn’t won a statewide race of any kind in over a decade. 

Perhaps aware of the current trends, Trump hit the ground Monday, holding events in Mankato and Minneapolis; rumors are he wants “counter-programming“ to this week’s Democratic National Convention. The president frequently laments that he barely lost Minnesota in 2016 when his campaign spent only $30,000, with a minimal ground game. Trump claimed Monday that “one more speech” could have been the difference.

“My message to Minnesota is clear. I’m here to help you. We will bring back law and order to your community, we will bring it back immediately,” the president said. Trump also called Biden a “puppet of left-wing extremists,” who will “abolish the American way of life.” 

While a Fox News poll conducted last month found Trump trailing Biden here by 13 points, those polls have since tightened — perhaps the improving economy and Biden’s radical and polarizing running mate choice contributed — and look more like they did this spring. National polls are also closer.

The Trump campaign also hopes to capitalize on the Minnesota DFL’s debacles this summer on numerous matters. After an embarrassing lack of leadership, the president deemed Jacob Frey a “very weak mayor” and denied Gov. Tim Walz’s request for federal funds after the governor’s ineptitude.

While the Twin Cities remain hard left, they don’t represent the entire state; its suburbs are fair game, with two competitive congressional races. Trump will also push for high turnout in rural counties, counting on support from an array of conservative candidates on the ballot like Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn, and Pete Stauber, as well as candidate Michelle Fischbach. 

“People are disgusted with the violent riots and destruction of Minneapolis and becoming more aware of the failed liberal policies in their lives, from defunding the police to rezoning stable neighborhoods,” Sue Rice, chair of St. Cloud Area Republicans, said. “The Democrats have turned so radically left that people fear for their safety and security in their homes and businesses. People are waking up to the failure of the Democrats’ policies.”

One reason Trump came so close to defeating Clinton in 2016 — winning 90% of the Gopher State’s counties — was low Democrat turnout. However, as an incumbent, he must now prepare to face a more energized base. At the same time, Trump was hurt four years ago by more than 165,000 Minnesotans voting for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin. That shouldn’t be the case in 2020 — Kanye West’s efforts notwithstanding. 

So with 11 weeks to Election Day, there’s some encouraging news for Team Trump. If the economy continues its rise, COVID conditions improve, and the left continues to excuse urban riots and hurt the poor with school closures, it should benefit the president, especially if Biden avoids answering any real questions and instead caters to lunatics

State Rep. Tama Theis, R-St. Cloud, told me she’s confident.

“People are noticing the economic changes made since President Trump won election and global decisions that benefit the U.S.,” she said. “Last time they were hesitant to voice their support, and this election year they are not. They are fighting back. Minnesota could easily be red.”