Will Donald Trump hinder down-ballot Republicans, or perhaps boost others? Three House races in Minnesota might give a measure of the coattails from the ticket, argues National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar. Republicans have to defend two suburban districts in the Twin Cities where Trump’s brashness might conflict with Minnesota Nice, but could play better in a traditionally Democratic district in the northeastern part of the state:
To fill the seat of retiring GOP Rep. John Kline, the district’s Republican activists endorsed a politically incorrect former radio-talk-show host (Jason Lewis) over a more seasoned state legislator. The Democratic candidate, businesswoman Angie Craig, would be the first woman to represent the suburban Twin Cities district. In parallels to the presidential campaign, Craig has called Lewis “sexist and ignorant” as she tries to tie her possible GOP rival to Trump.
In the neighboring suburban district held by GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, Trump’s candidacy is also looming large. Paulsen, who has cruised to victory since his first election in 2008, faces a difficult challenge from state Sen. Terri Bonoff, a moderate who is trying to handcuff Paulsen to his party’s presidential nominee. Her entrance in the race in April was a direct consequence of Trump locking down the GOP nomination.
And up on the state’s rural Iron Range, Trump’s appeal is a major wild card in a rematch between Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican businessman Stewart Mills. This is Minnesota’s version of Trump country, where the businessman won more votes than in any other district in the state’s March caucuses. But the working-class district also leans Democratic, and Nolan was one of the few targeted House Democrats to prevail in the 2014 midterms.
It’s an interesting hypothesis, but it still remains to be seen whether Trump will impact down-ballot races at all. To use Pennsylvania as one example, Pat Toomey still does well in his Senate re-election polling, running well ahead of his potential Democratic rivals even while Trump trails Hillary Clinton in the PA RCP average by seven points. Perhaps especially because of Trump’s unique nature, it may well be that voters can separate the top of the ticket from races of a more local nature.
The toughest challenge for the GOP in Minnesota will be in its second Congressional district, where John Kline has retired. Jason Lewis is a popular choice among conservatives, but Democrats have long targeted this district, coincidentally where I live. Bill Maher even made it his “flip this seat” project in 2014, only to see his efforts go down in flames with a 17-point win for Kline. With Kline out of the picture, Republicans will have to work harder to win it, but the situation may not quite be as dire as Kraushaar projects.
To judge this, let’s return to 2012 to judge the coattails of Barack Obama. Obama won Minnesota by double digits in 2008, and his popularity only narrowed a little four years later when he beat Mitt Romney by eight points in this state. Even with that wide gap at the top of the ticket, Kline beat the well-known Mike Obermueller by eight points in MN-02, a turnaround of 16 points in the gap. In MN-03, Paulsen romped over Brian Barnes by 16 points, a turnaround in the gap of 24 points. It was in MN-08 where Democrats matched Obama’s performance, as Rick Nolan won back the Iron Range seat by eight points over freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack.
The results of the presidential races in each of these districts shows the difficulty for Democrats in making Trump the issue, too. Obama only won by 226 votes in MN-02 out of more than 369,000 cast despite his statewide popularity; Obermueller got 20,000 fewer votes than Obama did, while Kline got 9,000 more than Romney and Obama. Obama won MN-03 by 3200 votes, but Paulsen got 27,000 more votes than Romney, while Barnes dropped 40,000 from Obama’s total. Obama scored a 20,000-vote win in MN-08, but even there Nolan outperformed Obama by 5,000, while Cravaack underperformed from Romney’s total by 6400.
What does that tell us? Basically, all politics are local, especially in House races in Minnesota. With the Trump campaign signaling that they won’t do a lot of ground-up campaigning, that will leave plenty of space for Lewis, Paulsen, and Mills to define themselves, even if Trump’s “GOP Impaler” personality doesn’t work with “Minnesota Nice.” Coattails don’t seem to have much length in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, at least not in these districts.