Photographs by Niti Gupta (Omar); Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images (Trump)
Donald Trump debuts a new reality show this month called the President of the United States of America (no news on the ratings just yet). So what does the dawn of the Don mean for Minnesota politics? “A lot of what’s going on now in state elections is driven by national elections,” says Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. “We’re seeing the nationalization of Minnesota politics.” The trickle-down from the top of the ticket explains, in part, why the state senate flipped to the Republicans in November (and why a Trump groupie like Jason Lewis found open arms in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District).
But despite outside forces, our electoral identity is relatively strong, says Jacobs, noting that while other states get bluer in urban areas and redder everywhere else, Minnesota bucks the trend thanks to the 8th District, which includes the Iron Range and its union-friendly DFLers. “That’s an area where, if you didn’t know anything about Minnesota politics, you’d think it was all red,” says Jacobs. Old-guard labor may have helped U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan hold onto his seat in the 8th (pending a recount at press time), but how to explain Trump’s big win in the region? “Minnesota politics is polka-dotted,” says Jacobs. “There are deep-blue areas like Minneapolis and St. Paul, deep-red areas like the 6th District, and purple areas. I think the 8th is turning purple.”
To Jacobs, the 2016 election was less a radical shift than a reinforcement of our state’s polka-dotted-ness. “We’re not bright-blue,” he says. “Minnesota is pretty unique, and it has to do with historic traditions—the legacy of DFL strength up north, the relative strength of Republicans, and the legacy of populism that makes voters open to third-party candidates and independents.”
About the only thing that surprises a grizzled wonk like Jacobs is the number of characters who have waltzed through our political arena, from Jesse Ventura to Michele Bachmann. “In a state Garrison Keillor made famous for Midwestern reserve, we’ve got more personality in our politicians per capita. That is surprising.”