Which state was only one never to vote for Ronald Reagan in a presidential election?  That distinction belongs to Minnesota, who held out for favorite-son Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984 when 49 other states backed Reagan in a huge landslide.  In fact, Minnesota hasn’t backed a Republican candidate for President since 1972, when it joined in the landslide victory of Richard Nixon over Upper Midwestern Democrat George McGovern in an equally huge landslide (49 states for Nixon).  The state backed Eisenhower in both elections, but otherwise has been a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections since FDR in 1932.  Barack Obama beat John McCain by 11 points in 2008, more than 50% better than the margin of the national popular vote.

It’s safe to say that Minnesota is, well, a safe blue state.  Or is it?

Compared to 3 weeks ago, when Pawlenty announced he was running for president, Pawlenty’s Net Favorability in MN is unchanged at Minus 3. Today, 53% see Pawlenty as qualified to be president, largely unchanged from the 55% who saw Pawlenty as qualified 3 weeks ago. But in a head-to-head, Pawlenty and Obama tie today. 3 weeks ago, Obama carried the state by 5 points.

The Wall Street Journal sees this as good news for Pawlenty:

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is fond of saying he’s the candidate who can “unite the whole Republican party . . . and then actually go on and win the election.” While his name recognition has been trailing behind other Republican hopefuls in key early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, a new poll of registered voters in Minnesota from SurveyUSA shows he does well against President Obama. …

We don’t discount Mr. Pawlenty’s home-state advantage among Minnesota voters, but Republican hopefuls from other deep blue states didn’t fare as well in similar measures. The same SurveyUSA poll had Michele Bachman losing by 14 points, while another recent Public Policy Polling survey has Governor Mitt Romney losing by 20 points in his home state of Massachusetts.

My friend John Hinderaker also believes this to be good news for Pawlenty, and it’s certainly not bad news.  Bachmann’s wide gap in the state underscores her statewide difficulties in Minnesota, one of the reasons why a Senate bid here is probably not realistic for Bachmann.  It’s either the national ticket in either slot, or a run at re-election in her Congressional district. The difference between the two results shows real strength for Pawlenty in Minnesota.

For Pawlenty, his strong performance in a state-wide poll is rather remarkable, since Democrats here have been trying to dump blame on him for the current budget impasse in order to deflect criticism of the in-over-his-head new governor, Mark Dayton.  Pawlenty wins majorities of voters between 35-64, although he trails with independents 39/51.  He also wins big in the top two income demographics and ties Obama among $50K-$75K earners.  Most impressively, Pawlenty comes within four points of Obama among Twin Cities voters, which are usually a Democratic stronghold.  He also wins all other regions, including an 11-point margin in southern Minnesota, which is represented by Democrats in Congress (Peterson and Walz).

However, another way to look at this is that Obama has suddenly become very, very vulnerable in a state where he should be showing considerable strength.  Despite efforts in the last three electoral cycles by national conservative organizations, Minnesota hasn’t come very close to going red in a presidential election.  Upper Midwestern progressivism still thrives in Minnesota, even if it has seriously waned in Wisconsin.  Republicans didn’t win a single state-wide office in the 2010 elections despite taking control of both chambers of the state legislature and scoring an upset in MN-08 with Chip Cravaack’s win over 18-term Rep. Jim Oberstar.  Now, suddenly, Obama can’t score better than a tie against a candidate who has yet to gain significant national traction?

If I was Tim Pawlenty, I’d be encouraged by these results.  If I was in Obama’s White House, I’d be very, very worried about them.