Democrats pan Trump’s play for Minnesota as a ‘head fake’

A GOP presidential candidate hasn't won the state in 50 years, yet attention from the Biden and Trump campaigns indicates that part of the "blue wall" is an emerging battleground.

No state screams “blue wall” louder than Minnesota.

It hasn’t gone for a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Democrats say former President Donald Trump doesn’t stand a chance there.

And yet President Joe Biden’s campaign is pushing out top-shelf local Democratic surrogates — Gov. Tim Walz and Sen. Tina Smith — on Friday to counter Trump’s visit to the state. That’s on the heels of first lady Jill Biden’s campaigning in the state last month.

All of the attention suggests that both campaigns see Minnesota as an emerging battleground in a race that is likely to be decided in a relative handful of states. Democrats readily concede that a Trump victory there would spell disaster for them across the country. But those in the party who know the state best insist talk of Trump’s stealing it is overblown.

“President Biden will win,” Walz said plainly in an interview. “No surprise Donald Trump is saying something that is not true.”

Walz noted that Biden was closer to winning Texas in 2020 than Trump was to winning Minnesota. That was after Trump famously said he was “never coming back” to the state if he lost. He added that Biden has brought billions of dollars in infrastructure projects to the state.

Trump also lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“But we don’t take it for granted. We will have the infrastructure necessary,” Walz said. “So the head fake of saying that you’re going to win Minnesota? Give it a good try, but we’ll do our work.”

Minnesota does lack the constituencies to whom Trump tends to appeal, including blue-collar workers and those without college degrees. And it largely favors abortion rights.

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While it regularly elects statewide Democratic public officials, a notable exception was the 1998 gubernatorial victory of Reform Party candidate Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a former pro wrestler who won after having run a low-budget campaign.

The Biden campaign has projected confidence in Minnesota, where it already has staffing and organization while Trump has had virtually no presence this campaign.

“Fundamentally, what we’re doing in Minnesota and Virginia is … not taking any state or any vote for granted. We’ve had a team on the ground in both those places, working hard to engage voters, build trust in the community as we open offices, increase our staff footprint,” Dan Kanninen, battleground states director for the Biden campaign, said at a recent briefing for reporters. “We feel strongly — the Biden-Harris coalition — in both Minnesota and Virginia, which had been strong in the midterms and off-year elections and will continue to be strong for us in the fall of 2024.”

And yet, Trump’s team has been bullish for weeks about his ability to gain ground in the state. At an event May 4 in Palm Beach, Florida, top Trump advisers told donors that in a six-way trial in Minnesota — including four independent candidates — Trump and Biden were tied at 40%. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. weighed in at 9%.

“Joe Biden is so weak, and Democrats are in such disarray, that not only is President Trump winning every traditional battleground state, but longtime blue states such as Minnesota, Virginia, and New Jersey are now in play,” Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, said in a statement. “President Trump is on offense with a winning message and growing his movement every single day. Joe Biden’s campaign should be terrified.”

Outside court in New York City this week, Trump addressed his prospects in Minnesota again.

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“We think we have a really good shot at Minnesota, where we have great friendships up there. We’ve done a lot for industry,” he said. “We’ve done a lot for everything in Minnesota. Worked hard on Minnesota.”

Trump is appearing at the Lincoln Reagan Dinner hosted by the state Republican Party on Friday night.

On an electoral battlefield in which few states are truly in play, both campaigns are looking for opportunities to win — or at least give strong enough head fakes to make the opposition spend precious money to play defense. Even with that in mind, Trump campaign officials are insistent and consistent in their optimism about Minnesota.

Senior adviser Chris LaCivita called the state “a real opportunity” in a recent interview.

Democrats note that some of the same big talk by Trump was true in 2020, just before Biden handily won the state by about 7 percentage points, carrying 52.4% of the vote to Trump’s 45.3%.

“There was a time in 2020 where the numbers closed in Minnesota. But then it quickly opened back up again with a good Democratic lead. You have a really strong Democratic brand and Democratic operation in Minnesota. You have a Democratic governor, which always helps you with a couple of points,” veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said. “You have a state that just fundamentally disagrees with Donald Trump on so many of his viewpoints and his priorities and, most of all, his character.

“I mean, if you want the opposite of ‘Minnesota nice,’ then go elect Donald Trump,” she added.

Complicating the equation for Democrats this go-around, however, is a fracturing of their party that became evident in Minnesota’s primary this year. Then, the choice of “uncommitted” on the Democratic ballot won 19% of the vote, buoyed by large Arab and Muslim populations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, known as the Twin Cities. Minnesota had a larger protest vote than Michigan, which also has a large Arab and Muslim population. There, 13% voted “uncommitted” on primary ballots. In each case, the electoral action was a clear message to Biden opposing the Israel-Hamas war.

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“There’s no doubt that we have work to do over the next six months to unify our party. And we will do that,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

“But I’ve often said that this moment in time does not predict what’s going to happen on Nov. 5. … This is still a pretty existential choice for voters. And as I’ve talked to a number of folks who voted uncommitted in our primary who are protesting, they still tell me that while they’re deeply frustrated right now with what’s happening in the Mideast, that they still intend to vote for Joe Biden and they understand the stakes of this election.”

Walz said Trump has his own party fracturing with which to contend, pointing to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s garnering 20% of the vote in last week’s Indiana primary, despite having dropped out of contention in March.

Lake argued that the Democrats who strayed from Biden in the primary would come back to him in the end, saying: “It’s a long way from ‘uncommitted’ to Donald Trump.”

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