Minnesota's Iron Range has been a Democratic stronghold for generations. But on Tuesday, parts of the fortress fell.
In Hibbing, the heart of the Range, Republican Donald Trump narrowly edged out Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. Area voters also went with the GOP on two local Minnesota House races, turning out five-term DFL Rep. Tom Anzelc and four-term Rep. John Persell.
Those defeats might have been unthinkable to old-timers, but DFL activist and Iron Range blogger Aaron Brown said change was in the air. Part of it was frustration with practical things — rising health care costs and the health of the mining and forestry industries. But the unhappiness went deeper.
"Life here has a little bit more difficult with each passing year for everybody, especially for regular working people," said Brown. "Miners have great jobs by local standards. But the number of shut downs, the amount of uncertainty ... I think people are just mad enough to reject the party that they've known."
Voting data from Hibbing, Grand Rapids and other greater Minnesota towns showed that DFLers could no longer absolutely be counted on to vote DFL. Nineteen of 87 Minnesota counties that voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 flipped to Trump Tuesday, shifting about 50,000 votes. Some of the counties flipped with a vengeance.
In Itasca County, around Grand Rapids, the difference between the Obama victory and the Clinton loss was a change of more than 6,200 votes in a county where only about 22,000 people voted for president this year. Beltrami County, around Bemidji, saw a similar, although smaller, swing.
Southern Minnesota saw some flips as well, especially along the Iowa line, from near LaCrosse, Wis. over to Albert Lea, and up to Mankato and St. Peter.
Minnesota has been reliably Democratic, although it hasn't been a landslide state. Back in 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore came within about 59,000 votes of each other in Minnesota. Yes, Minnesota was the only win for native son Walter Mondale in 1984, but Mondale only beat President Ronald Reagan by 3,700 votes.
The voting data also show the Independence Party and the Libertarian Party had pretty good showings Tuesday night. Together they picked up 165,000 votes. If they'd combined, they could have qualified to be a new, major party in Minnesota, legally on par with the Republicans.
Those parties are generally viewed as fiscally conservative. Add their votes together with those of Republicans on Election Day and it's easy to conclude Minnesota is a majority conservative state now and Republicans are really consolidating power outside of the major cities.
Health care costs were among the top concerns of greater Minnesota voters. Many people who buy individual health coverage outside of an employer are facing major increases in premiums this coming year. Many blame the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which was championed by Obama and embraced by Gov. Mark Dayton and other Minnesota DFLers.
But health care options are limited outside of the Twin Cities.
"You know, Obamacare is crushing people. Just crushing people. And it's going to make them either go bankrupt or become a criminal," said state Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, chair of the House Taxes Committee.
He recalled a family of four who were paying $4,400 a month for health coverage. "And you get your deductible on top of that and then you lose your doctor because down here they don't take Olmsted Medical Center. It's just been such a disaster."
Davids said Trump promised to make the Affordable Care Act go away, and people took him at his word.
On the Range, Brown said that looking back, he could see a hint of the change coming, when his middle-schooler came home and said Trump had won a mock election at school. There was a feeling that families had shared their support for Trump with their kids, even if they weren't talking about it. Now, the change is out where everybody can see it.
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