Minnesota: GOP Convention State

National Journal
James A. Barnes
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James A. Barnes
Aug. 21, 2008, 8 p.m.

Al­though Min­nesota has giv­en its Elect­or­al Col­lege votes to a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee just once (1972) in the last 50 years—a re­cord of Demo­crat­ic sup­port un­matched by any oth­er state—the res­ults from the two most re­cent White House con­tests sug­gest that the state isn’t ne­ces­sar­ily bey­ond John Mc­Cain’s reach.

George W. Bush twice came close to win­ning Min­nesota—los­ing by only 2 per­cent­age points in 2000 and 3 per­cent­age points in 2004. In Ju­ly, a Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity Poll found Demo­crat Barack Obama locked in a stat­ist­ic­al dead heat with the Re­pub­lic­an Mc­Cain. So if Mc­Cain can con­vince Min­nesota sub­urb­an­ites that his mav­er­ick qual­it­ies would define his pres­id­ency, he has a real chance of car­ry­ing the state.

The Twin Cit­ies’ sub­urbs will be a key battle­ground. Bush car­ried the nine sub­urb­an and ex­urb­an counties around Min­neapol­is and St. Paul for a second time in 2004, in­creas­ing his total there by 38,000 votes. John Kerry, mean­while, in­creased the Demo­crat­ic mar­gin in Hen­nepin County, which in­cludes Min­neapol­is, and in Ram­sey County, home to St. Paul, by more than 70,000 votes. Moreover, Kerry car­ried the close-in sub­urbs of Hen­nepin, 51 per­cent to 48 per­cent.

The party’s de­cision to hold the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion in Min­neapol­is-St. Paul could help Mc­Cain win the hearts of sub­urb­an­ites in the metro area. “The key may be how Mc­Cain plays it, or is por­trayed, dur­ing the con­ven­tion,” said Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant and vote ana­lyst Clark Ben­son.

Min­nesota’s re­l­at­ively high tax rates have helped to make these sub­urbs and ex­urbs friendly ter­rit­ory for Re­pub­lic­ans, but many oth­er is­sues in this year’s pres­id­en­tial con­test are less likely to play to the GOP’s ad­vant­age. Un­like in 2004, ter­ror­ism isn’t the dom­in­ant top­ic on voters’ minds. The sag­ging eco­nomy and high gas­ol­ine prices share the stage with the usu­al mix of so­cial is­sues.

“[If] you start talk­ing about abor­tion and en­vir­on­ment, the sub­urbs come to the Demo­crats,” said Demo­crat­ic strategist Andy Bechoef­fer.

Min­nesotans tend to turn out in un­usu­ally high num­bers, primar­ily be­cause of the state’s pro­gress­ive tra­di­tions and its re­l­at­ively well-edu­cated elect­or­ate. The Census Bur­eau re­por­ted that in 2004, 79 per­cent of the state’s vot­ing-age pop­u­la­tion cast bal­lots—the highest par­ti­cip­a­tion rate of any state. Neither party, there­fore, can ex­pect to gain much ad­vant­age by try­ing to boost turnout.

Min­nesota has same-day voter re­gis­tra­tion, and the Sec­ret­ary of State’s Of­fice re­por­ted that 592,421 voters, about one in five, took ad­vant­age of this pro­vi­sion in 2004. The surge in Elec­tion Day re­gis­tra­tion does not sig­ni­fy a huge in­flux of new voters in­to the state; its pop­u­la­tion has grown only 5.7 per­cent since 2000. Nearly all of that same-day activ­ity in­volves voters who had re­lo­cated with­in the state, of­ten with­in the Twin Cit­ies metro area.

Be­cause of same-day re­gis­tra­tion, many Min­nesotans who move don’t re-re­gister in ad­vance of Elec­tion Day. Without easy ac­cess to up-to-date ad­dresses, the polit­ic­al parties have a tough time tar­get­ing these voters. Mc­Cain, lack­ing the or­gan­iz­a­tion­al prowess of the Obama cam­paign, may have his best shot at con­nect­ing with Min­nesotans on the move dur­ing his party’s four-day gath­er­ing in their state.

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