Let’s say Donald Trump fails to sweep the Rust Belt states in 2020. His chances of winning Ohio – where he trounced Hillary Clinton by 9 points in 2016 – are still great.
But without Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — where Trump won by razor-thin margins four years ago — the president might well lose re-election. Trump enjoyed a 68 electoral vote margin over Clinton, 304 to 236. Take away the combined 44 electoral votes from those three Rust Belt states and Trump falls short of the needed 270 votes by ten.
Trump is trailing most of the Democratic candidates in the Rust Belt by double digits in recent polling. That’s given liberals reason to be gleeful about their chances of victory in 2020. But their optimism assumes that Trump cannot expand the electoral map elsewhere.
In truth, he can.
Thanks to the success of Trump’s policies and other fortuitous developments, several other Blue-trending states are certain to be in play in 2020.
Of these, none is more important than Minnesota. Its 10 electoral votes alone could offset a possible Rust Belt loss. The mainstream media has barely covered Trump’s remarkable gains in Minnesota, a state that historically is the Bluest of the Blue.
How Blue? Even during the Reagan landslide victories of 1980 and 1984, the Gopher State (as it is known) remained a bastion of New Deal liberalism and economic populism. In fact, the last time the GOP captured Minnesota was during Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, nearly a half-century ago.
Yet Trump, with his own brand of populism, nearly captured the state in 2016. He carried 78 of the state’s 87 counties, double the number carried by President Obama in 2012. Overall, the margin between Trump and Hillary Clinton was a mere 1.5% — just 44,000 votes — the weakest Democratic tilt in decades.
In fact, Trump might well have won Minnesota in 2016 had he made the state more of a priority. On the advice of the GOP mainstream – which had watched Mitt Romney make a foolhardy play for Minnesota in 2012— Trump didn’t visit the state until the waning days of his campaign, a decision he came to regret. “One more big rally and we would have won,“ he lamented later.
Trump’s taking no chances this time. Since October of last year, he’s held three major rallies in Duluth and Rochester, two urban Democratic bastions with pockets of working-class voters attracted to his anti-trade, “America-First” message. Each time the crowds have grown larger. And just this week, Trump weighed in heavily during the burgeoning Pledge of Allegiance controversy in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, promising to turn the state Red.
Why are Trump’s chances so good? The booming economy is one reason. In addition to favorable job trends – the state’s unemployment rate is 3.3%, one of the lowest in the nation — Trump has undertaken special initiatives to bolster the state’s extractive and manufacturing industries, drawing a sharp contrast between his administration’s policies and those of his predecessor.
.For example, last month Trump renewed the lease of a major copper and nickel mining operation in the northeast – one of the largest remaining reserves in the world — that President Obama had refused to renew in his final weeks in office. While liberal environmental groups are still vocally protesting Trump’s decision, polls show that Minnesotans, especially in the five counties surrounding the project, strongly approve.
Trump’s crackdown on immigration has also found increasing favor. Minnesota is a major resettlement state for Muslim refugees, many of them from terror-prone Syria and Somalia. Some Somalis have also left Minnesota to join ISIS in east Africa. A November 2016 attack by a Somali-American– who stabbed 8 people in a shopping mall — has fueled support in Minnesota for Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
The Gopher State is likely to tilt GOP for another reason: Massive fallout from the resignation of Sen. Al Franken, a prominent liberal Democrat, over sexual assault allegations that have damaged the party’s standing with voters across the board. There’s also growing controversy over newly-elected congresswoman Ilhan Omar – who is widely viewed as anti-Semitic and extremist. As a result, Democrats are confronting a major crisis of credibility with Minnesota’s electorate.
Trump’s growing popularity with Minnesotans was apparent in 2018 when the two candidates he endorsed and campaigned for easily won their races. They included Pete Stauber, who captured the 8th district, which had voted Democratic for years. The fact that these victories occurred at a time when Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives reflects the deep GOP undercurrent that could allow Trump to “flip” Minnesota in 2020.
There are two other states in the Southwest that Trump might also turn Red:. Nevada, with 6 electoral votes and Colorado with 9. While both states have trended Democratic since 2004, Trump’s growing popularity with Hispanics, who constitute a sizable share of each state’s electorate, is giving him a fresh opening. Still, both states remain an uphill climb.
Minnesota, by contrast, may well be Trump’s to lose. He’s certainly not out of the running in the Rust Belt, but with a major democratic investment expected there (in contrast to 2016), the Gopher State will loom unusually large in 2020. Assuming the rest of the electoral map stays frozen in place, it could even be the state that puts Trump over the top.
Bellwether or not, a loss in Minnesota would be an unmistakable sign of just how much the country has tiled away from the Democrats since Trump took office.