The eternal question: Is Minnesota ready to turn red?

I moved to Minnesota in late 1997, and at least since then, Republicans have asked this question in every election cycle. And in every election cycle, the answer has been a resounding no. However, last year’s unexpectedly close results in Minnesota’s presidential vote has Barry Casselman wondering at the Weekly Standard if 2018 might be the Year of the Republican in the Land of 10,000 Lakes:

Does Minnesota still deserve its national reputation as dependably “blue”? Probably not. Though next year is expected to be a good one for Democrats nationally, this might turn out to be the only state where Republicans could flip the congressional lineup from blue to red. …

When Donald Trump stopped off in Minnesota the Sunday before the election, it raised eyebrows. No Republican had won the state since Richard Nixon in 1972. But two days later, the outcome was in doubt until late in the night. Hillary Clinton’s 1.5 point margin over Trump was the narrowest victory for her party there since Walter Mondale barely won his home state over Ronald Reagan in 1984.

What had happened to this hyper-blue state? This is a state that was reliably liberal for decades after the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, the DFL, was created in 1944. A succession of DFLers were sent to Washington, reaching a high point with Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, both of whom became vice president and then their party’s nominee for president. But the GOP won a statewide upset in 1978, electing two U.S. senators and the governor. And ever since, control of state offices has passed back and forth between the DFL and the GOP.

Well … kind of. That statement ignores a key point, which is that they largely stopped passing back and forth over a decade ago. The last Republican to win statewide office in Minnesota was Tim Pawlenty, who narrowly won re-election in 2006 by about 22,000 votes. Since then, Republicans have experienced a steady stream of futility in its statewide races, and Democrats (or DFL, as the party is known here) have won every statewide election since. There seems to be little hard evidence (yet) that 2018 will be any more fruitful.

Of course, the closeness of the race last year gives the GOP some hope. But how exactly did Trump get that close? Casselman hints at the answer:

Last year brought the latest reversal, with the GOP keeping control of the state house and retaking the state senate. More revealing was the closeness of the presidential race. The much-heralded DFL get-out-the-vote operation almost came up short in delivering the state for Hillary Clinton (who had lost there to Bernie Sanders in the primary/caucus season).

It’s revealing, but not in a manner that suggests better days ahead for Minnesota Republicans. Trump did manage to outscore Mitt Romney’s 2012 results, but only by 2,000 votes. Clinton, on the other hand, dropped nearly 180,000 votes from Barack Obama’s 2012 total. That lack of enthusiasm for Clinton, and the poor GOTV effort on the ground in the state, is what nearly cost her the election. Competent DFL candidates, combined with any decent GOTV organization, will probably return Democrats to a position of dominance unless the GOP can find outstanding challengers in the statewide election.

True story: On Halloween night, I went out with my granddaughters in a deep-blue section of the Twin Cities, which during the primaries was covered in Bernie campaign signs. I saw one Hillary sign while walking through the whole neighborhood. Republicans didn’t “almost win” with Trump nearly as much as Democrats almost lost with Hillary.

Before we get around to declaring the state ready to go red, perhaps the GOP can win one statewide office first. Casselman suggests that Pawlenty might be enticed to run again for his old office. That would be good news for the GOP, but we should wait to see whether any other Republican can crack that code — for the Senate, for secretary of state, auditor, etc. Until then … stay skeptical.

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David Strom 8:31 AM on October 02, 2022