GOP candidates missing the Minnesota boat
Republican presidential candidates are coming to Minnesota this year, but they don't seem to looking for votes. Perhaps it is because of the Gopher State's reputation as one of the bluest (most liberal) states, and because the state has not given its electoral votes to a Republican since 1972. On the other hand, Minnesota has no statewide races next year, and there is significant cash available from big donors, so many of the 2016 GOP hopefuls are quietly slipping into the state for fundraisers only.
They are probably making a big strategic mistake. Here's why:
The next cycle, which culminates in November 2016, is turning out to be atypical, especially in presidential campaign politics. Attention is beginning to shift from the first four primary and caucus states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, in that order) to the March 1 Super Tuesday, when a large number of delegates will be chosen in 13 state contests. With the large Republican field this year, and presuming many of them will still be running in early 2016, the surviving candidates will all need some victories to keep their campaigns going.
One of the Super Tuesday states will be Minnesota, and several delegates will be available. Only one candidate will win Iowa, only one will win New Hampshire, and only one will win South Carolina, but there will likely be more than three finalists in the race on March 1, so a win in Minnesota could either provide some momentum for someone who has not won in the first four contests or solidify the lead for someone who has. Furthermore, there are many contests on Super Tuesday, and it's unlikely that a candidate who does not win at least one of them could survive for the primaries and contests that remain.
There are other advantages, too. Minnesota is located adjacent to and between Iowa and Wisconsin, two likely battleground states in 2016. (The three states form the super-state "Minnewisowa" – a term I coined in the 2004 presidential election – that provides 26 electoral votes). The Twin Cities and Duluth media markets reach much of western Wisconsin, and the Rochester, MN media market reaches northern Iowa. It's easy logistically to schedule campaign appearances in Minnesota when a candidate also has appearances scheduled in Iowa or Wisconsin.
Minnesota holds a caucus on March 1, so GOP candidates can concentrate on the limited number of caucus attendees. If only one or a few presidential candidates compete in this state, a surprise victory is quite possible.
And, of course, there is the cash. Minnesota is a particularly affluent state, with numerous successful businesses and corporations. Many of its executives and owners are liberal and give generously to Democratic (DFL) candidates, but there are also numerous conservative major donors in the state, including several billionaires or near billionaires. (In 2013-14, ten of the GOP candidates for the most closely contested U.S. Senate races held fundraisers in the state. Each raised in excess of six figures, and all ten candidates won in November.)
With no statewide races in 2016, Minnesota major donors, if past history is a guide, will want to be fiscal players in the presidential race.
Finally, although Iowa and Wisconsin are already battleground states and could cast their electoral votes for the GOP nominee, Minnesota could break with its recent liberal pattern in 2016 and be up for grabs. Democrats (DFLers) now constitute only about a third of the state's registered voters; Republican make up a bit less percentage-wise, and a third of Minnesota voters are now independents (remember, Jesse Ventura won the governorship in 1998 as a third-party candidate) or unaffiliated, and these voters will make the difference, more than ever before, next year. Hillary Clinton is still popular with DFL women in Minnesota, but Mrs. Clinton does not have the kind of support that Barack Obama had here in 2008 and in 2012. A strong center-right Republican nominee could surprise in Minnesota in 2016.
It will be interesting to observe which GOP presidential candidates, if any, figure all of this out.