Presidential race tightens in Minnesota as Trump plows resources into state

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is favored to carry Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes but President Trump’s campaign is mounting a serious challenge, plowing resources into a state that hasn’t gone for the GOP presidential nominee since 1972, the longest such streak in the nation.

The Trump campaign went up with new ads on Wednesday accusing Biden of standing with “rioters and looters” in Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd in May sparked nationwide protests and demands for police reform.

The ad is part of $14 million in television reservations the Trump campaign has in Minnesota. Republicans are knocking on doors in the state and flooding mailboxes with literature. Vice President Pence visited last week to tout the support of rural mayors in the Iron Range, where mining and forestry are top occupations.

Biden’s campaign is taking the challenge seriously, reserving $3 million in television ads and partnering with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), renowned for its turnout operations, on a digital outreach program aimed at running up the score in the densely populated Twin Cities region. Biden says he’ll visit after Labor Day.

The flood of resources pouring into Minnesota ahead of the start of early voting on Sept. 18 is in stark contrast to last election, when neither campaign spent any money on the airwaves. Hillary Clinton narrowly edged out Trump by 1.5 points there in 2016.

Minnesota Democrats believe Biden is in a better position than Clinton. But they acknowledge that the same cultural trends that helped Trump turn Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania red have forced Democrats to play defense in the state for the first time in decades.

“It’s realistic that a Republican could win here for the first time in a long time, but Trump is not the favorite in Minnesota by any means and having one or two good polls doesn’t make it a toss-up yet,” said Todd Rapp, a veteran Democratic operative in the state. “Trump will get trounced in the Twin Cities and I don’t know that there are enough votes in the rural parts of the state to make up for it. But I tell you what, plenty of things could happen in the next two months to make my confidence waver.” 

Biden leads Trump by 5.3 points in Minnesota, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Trump fell short to Clinton in Minnesota by only about 40,000 votes in 2016. Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin received more than 50,000 votes and Libertarian Gary Johnson got more than 112,000 votes.

According to data from the state Democratic Party, there were 250,000 white men without a college degree who were eligible to vote in 2016 but were not registered. The Trump campaign is targeting those potential voters in 2020.

However, Democrats believe Trump’s 2016 showing will be difficult to repeat, pointing to the state swinging wildly in favor of Democrats in 2018.

Former Rep. Tim Walz (D) won the governor’s mansion by about 300,000 votes that year. Democrats flipped two House seats and picked up more than a dozen state House seats.

The outcome could hinge on suburban women, who have gravitated toward Biden in the polls and propelled Democrats to a House majority in 2018.

But Republicans say Trump’s message about violent protests is resonating in the suburbs. Parts of Minneapolis were left in ruin from demonstrations following Floyd’s death.

“The suburban weakness [for Trump] is real, some of these golden Republican suburbs are no longer,” said Amy Koch, a Republican and the former majority leader in the state Senate. “At the same time, support in the suburbs has fluctuated and Republicans do have some pick-up opportunities. We’ve been ground zero for the civil unrest. We’re very much about demonstrations and reforms, but it’s a whole other thing when protesters are lighting precincts on fire.”

The latest Trump ad in Minnesota seeks to capitalize on that, showing Biden taking a knee while images of raging fires and businesses being destroyed roll behind him.

“Lawless criminals terrorize Minneapolis and Joe Biden takes a knee,” the narrator states.

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee are also undertaking an aggressive, in-person get-out-the-vote strategy that includes volunteers knocking on doors and “MAGA meetups” for supporters.

The Trump campaign says it has 35,000 volunteers in Minnesota.

“The grassroots army is real,” Koch said. “They’ve been doing it for months and have been super active. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Much of the Trump campaign’s focus has been on the rural parts of the state. Pence’s recent event in Duluth featured endorsements from six Minnesota mayors hailing from the Iron Range, some of whom are Democrats. Eveleth, Minn., Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich, a Democrat, spoke at the GOP convention.

“There’s been a cultural shift up there,” said Annette Meeks, a longtime GOP activist in the state. “Their communities are crumbling and the energy sector workers blame Twin Cities liberals for blocking some of these projects that would restore economic prosperity.”

Rapp said he doesn’t think there are enough votes in the rural parts of the state to make up for Biden’s big advantage in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“Democrats will dominate in those urban districts,” he said. “We’ll win college towns around state and hold our own in the two suburban districts. Math-wise, Republicans will run out of votes here. The people who didn’t turn out in 2016 were primarily noncollege whites. But if there was ever a year that Trump would turn out the vote from those who feel disenfranchised, it would have been 2016.”

The Biden campaign says it’s taking nothing for granted.

They’re up with two new ads casting the former vice president as a leader in a time of crisis and as an ordinary American with humble, Rust Belt roots.

A new 60-second ad accuses Trump of not having a plan to address the coronavirus.

“Joe Biden is ready to lead us through the crisis,” the narrator states. “He knows rebuilding our economy starts with fighting the virus, increasing testing, getting more protective gear for health care workers and calling for mask mandates nationwide.”

A second ad highlights Biden’s early years in Scranton, Pa., which the narrator says is “a long way from Wall Street.”

“You won’t find skyscrapers or big city bankers,” the narrator says. “Just hard-working people. That’s where Joe Biden’s story starts.”

The Biden campaign is not doing in-person outreach, instead relying on phone calls, text messages and other virtual tactics to turn out the vote.

The campaign says it has reached more than 1.5 million voters by phone and has completed 5,000 volunteer shifts, alongside the DFL. They say reached one Minnesota voter every second in the 48 hours following the Democratic convention. The DFL is a political force in the state with a reputation for maximizing turnout.

“We’re taking nothing for granted,” said David Bergstein, the Democratic National Committee’s director of battleground state communications. “But I’m old enough to remember the Trump campaign was talking about competing in Oregon. It’s obvious they have no strategic plan. They just hopscotch around to different states and try to ignore the enormous headwinds they face because the map has shrunk on them and they’re playing defense in most battlegrounds.”

Tags Donald Trump Gary Johnson Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Minnesota Tim Walz

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