Trump’s return to Minnesota has attention of both parties

Published 6:10 am Friday, May 17, 2024

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By Clay Masters and Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio News

A Republican Party fundraising dinner offers former President Donald Trump a ready-made opportunity to put Minnesota back into his sights after two prior defeats as the GOP nominee.

The quick stop Friday could be followed by more from Trump if he deems the state truly competitive in his attempt to win back the White House. His appearance also gives both parties a boost – the cash-strapped Republicans expected to make a bigger haul with Trump as the headliner and Democrats get a chance to stir up their base amid concerns about complacency.

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That Trump is here at all is a reversal from his pledge to ignore Minnesota if voters didn’t deliver him a win in 2020.

“I lose Minnesota, I’m never coming back,” Trump said at an airport hangar rally in Duluth that October. “I’m never coming back!”

Trump has cast doubt on that loss — by more than 7 percentage points to now-President Joe Biden — and distanced himself from the no-return remark.

But even leading Democrats say another win by Biden in Minnesota isn’t assured.

“There’s 50 states around the country, and there’s only 12 of them that are a battleground and Minnesota is one of them,” said Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin. “Yes, while we’ve managed to keep it blue, that’s because we’ve, you know, we haven’t taken it for granted.”

Trump would be overcoming history if he flips Minnesota. No Republican has won the state’s electoral votes since 1972 — giving Democrats the longest uninterrupted streak on the national map.

Even though he lost, Trump pulled down more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. He had more than 1.48 million votes last time compared to about 1.32 million in his first bid. But Democrats also boosted their vote totals, too.  Biden racked up 1.71 million votes four years ago, a solid 350,000 more than 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

Neither Trump nor Biden have their respective bases locked in. In the March presidential primary, Trump rival Nikki Haley won about 29 percent of the vote. Biden shed about 30 percent as well, including a large number to an uncommitted push as a protest of his administration’s handling of the war in the Middle East.

November’s outcome could come down to Biden’s ability to pull those voters back in and Trump’s ability to regain support in the suburbs.

Amy Koch, a Republican political strategist and former leader in the Minnesota Senate, argued Trump can’t ignore the Haley voters.

“He may not like that but those voters are what he needs to put himself over the top, period, end of sentence,” Koch said. “And can he get them back? I’m not sure.”

Koch said 2022 should have been a good Midterm for Republicans but many women turned out because of the Dobbs decision that overturned the federal right to abortion. And that was something they blamed on Trump and other Republicans.

A spokesperson for the national Trump campaign told MPR News that they see Biden under pressure in states like Minnesota and Virginia. A spokesperson from the Biden campaign welcomed Trump to sink resources into Minnesota.

Tickets to the evening fundraiser featuring Trump start at $500 and go for up to $100,000 for a VIP table with photo opportunities included.

The event is not open to the public. Only media organizations selected by the Trump campaign will be allowed in; MPR News had not been given access as of Thursday night.

Both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have already visited Minnesota this year. Harris visited a women’s reproductive health clinic that performs abortion services back in March. In January, Biden was in the Twin Ports to promote infrastructure dollars invested in fixing the deteriorating Blatnik Bridge which links the port cities of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.