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Trump lost Minnesota twice. Here's why he's making an effort in the state this year


In the final months of the 2020 presidential campaign, former President Donald Trump made a vow at a rally in an airport hangar in Duluth, Minn.


DONALD TRUMP: I lose Minnesota, I'm never coming back. I don't care.


TRUMP: I'm never coming back.

SUMMERS: Well, tomorrow, he is going back to Minnesota. He's scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for the Minnesota Republican Party in a state that he lost twice. Minnesota Public Radio's Clay Masters is here to tell us why. Hi, Clay.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

SUMMERS: So Clay, tell us, what is Trump doing in a state that has not gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1972?

MASTERS: Well, it's not uncommon for candidates to go to fundraisers in states that favor opposing parties. Trump thinks he can win Minnesota because he got really close to taking its 10 electoral votes in 2016. Trump lost to President Biden in the 2020 election by more than seven percentage points in this state. But go back four years earlier, and Hillary Clinton won by just 1 1/2 percentage points. So Ken Martin is the Democratic party chair in Minnesota and says while the state has a long track record of voting for Democratic presidential candidates, the state has been competitive for the last couple of decades.

KEN MARTIN: There's 50 states around the country, and there's only 12 of them that are a battleground. And Minnesota is one of them, right? Yes, while we've managed to keep it blue, that's because we haven't taken it for granted.

MASTERS: So he insists the third time won't be a charm for Trump. Look, Minnesota is among - is not among those six swing states like Wisconsin or Michigan, but Martin says they need to run like they're behind. This isn't, you know, California or New York.

SUMMERS: OK, right. But what makes Minnesota different?

MASTERS: Yeah, well, for one, this is the state that elected a professional wrestler, right? Remember, Jesse Ventura was elected governor in the '90s as a third-party candidate? New York and California, the examples I just gave, we think of them as blue states. Minnesota is more purple. While it might not be apparent by looking only at a presidential result, you look further down, and there's a long history of divided control at the Minnesota Capitol up until recently. So also, the voting dynamic has undergone a seismic shift in greater Minnesota since 2016, especially a region in the north called the Iron Range that's gone from solidly blue to more red.

SUMMERS: Clay, help me understand here - what is Trump's path forward in Minnesota?

MASTERS: I think you can look to suburban districts across the country and see some parallels. It's pretty similar here. In the suburbs surrounding the population center of the Twin Cities, it's gone more in the Democratic column. Trump needs to win over moderate Republicans, the voters who would have preferred former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. I mean, she nabbed about 29% of the Republican primary votes here in 2024. I spoke with Amy Koch, who's a Republican political strategist and former leader in the Minnesota Senate, and she argues Trump cannot ignore the Haley voters.

AMY KOCH: He may not like that, but those voters are what he needs to put himself of the top - period, end of sentence. And can he get them back? I'm not sure.

MASTERS: So Coke says 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.

SUMMERS: Clay, last thing, what are you hearing from the campaigns ahead of Trump's trip there?

MASTERS: Yeah, a spokesperson for the national Trump campaign tells me they see Biden under pressure in states like Minnesota, and they also used Virginia as an example. A spokesperson for the Biden campaign tells me if the Trump campaign wants to waste their time in Minnesota, basically, go for it. I mean, this will be interesting, Juana, because also take into account the enthusiasm gap for these presidential candidates in both the parties. There was lower turnout for both Republicans and Democrats here in the primary. Talked about Haley on the Republican side - Democrats, nearly 19% of voters selected uncommitted in protest of President Biden's handling of the war in the Middle East.

SUMMERS: Minnesota Public Radio's Clay Masters, thank you.

MASTERS: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENDRICK LAMAR SONG, "SING ABOUT ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Clay Masters
[Copyright 2024 MPR News]