US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS
US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS

Washington —  Donald Trump’s campaign is pouring resources into winning Minnesota, betting that rising public opposition to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests will tip an historically Democratic state the president narrowly lost four years ago.

Trump won the White House in 2016, in part, on narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But he trails former vice-president Joe Biden in all three. Michigan and its 16 Electoral College votes, where Republicans lost congressional races and the governor’s mansion in 2018, looks particularly out of reach.

That has got the president’s campaign working on an alternative path to re-election. His aides say one possibility is some combination of wins in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine and Nevada, states with a combined 24 Electoral College votes that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by a thin margin. It’s a strategy to some extent forced on Trump; public disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has weighed on his support nationwide, including in Michigan.

A public policy polling survey of Michigan conducted between  August 28-29 found that 56% of voters think the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has done a better job on the outbreak, compared with 39% who think Trump’s done better.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan have a combined 46 Electoral College votes. Winning the presidency requires 270.

Vice-President Mike Pence flew to Minnesota and Michigan on August 28, a day after the Republican National Convention ended. In Minnesota that day, six mayors from the state’s Iron Range region, long a Democratic stronghold known for iron ore mines, endorsed Trump.

Minnesota has a progressive tradition that dates back generations through its Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which is affiliated with the US Democratic Party and has produced an outsized number of national political figures.

The state has backed a Republican for president just three times since 1932, most recently when it voted for Richard Nixon in 1972. Walter Mondale, a Minnesotan, carried his home state and no other in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election landslide.

Cultural shift?

Yet Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said last week on a conference call with reporters that the state is “culturally shifting our way”. Barack Obama won Minnesota by 10 percentage points in 2008 and by 7.7 points in 2012; Clinton edged Trump by a slender 1.5 points.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, said on the call that the campaign had reserved $14m in television advertising  to run in Minnesota through to the November 3 election.

The spots now running in the state, and in adjacent western Wisconsin, portray Democrat Joe Biden as “taking a knee” when protests in Minneapolis turned violent. “Lawless criminals terrorise Minneapolis,” the advert says over images of burning buildings and a mask-wearing Biden.

“We’ve already laid down the marker that we’re going all-in on Minnesota. We think it’s a state that we can win,” Miller said.

A main reason: faltering public support for nationwide BLM protests, which began after the May death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Hostile posture

Amy Koch, a Republican strategist in Minnesota, said people in the state were overwhelmingly “horrified” by what happened to Floyd, but that Trump’s law and order message may be resonating.

Some of the ensuing protests turned violent, with hundreds of Minneapolis buildings burnt or otherwise damaged. Wisconsin is wrestling with its own bout of unrest after a police officer in Kenosha was seen on video last month shooting Jacob Blake, also black, in the back seven times.

Trump assumed a hostile posture towards the protests and the BLM movement, even as it was embraced by much of corporate America. He’s adopted “law and order” as a sort of campaign theme, promising Americans that if they elect Biden, the scenes of protests, riots and looting that began under Trump’s presidency will continue.

The longer the protests go on and the more aggressive and violent demonstrators have become, the more receptive voters grow to Trump’s position, according to two Republican officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

“You betcha it helps the president,” said Ron Britton, chair of the Republican Party in St Louis County, in northeastern Minnesota between Lake Superior and the Canadian border. He said he had given out his office’s entire inventory of as many as 800 Trump-Pence yard signs.

There’s evidence of this phenomenon in opinion polls. A Politico/Morning Consult poll published in late August found that voter support for BLM had fallen 9 percentage points since June. Politico attributed the erosion at least in part to Trump’s attacks on the BLM movement, which he’s called “discriminatory.”

Biden has a 3.7 percentage point lead in Minnesota, according to a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls.

Bloomberg

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