Democrats worry Trump has a 2020 head start in Minnesota

Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin and statewide candidates address a get out the vote rally in 2018 St. Paul.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2018

As Republicans prepare to rally behind President Trump in Minneapolis, Democrats have plenty of candidates but no good sense of who will become their nominee to run against him next year.

The nomination battle threatens Democrats’ chances going into the 2020 election, said Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin.

“There’s no doubt, the longer this nominating contest goes on, the steeper the hill is for us in terms of beating Donald Trump,” he said.

Martin said Republican fundraising and organizing efforts should be of particular concern in Minnesota, a state where the last time a Republican presidential candidate prevailed was 1972. Trump narrowly lost in the state in 2016 and is targeting it for victory next year.

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“Minnesota has the longest streak of any in the nation of voting for the Democratic presidential nominee,” Martin said. “I don’t want to be the party chair that loses Minnesota on their watch.”

Despite the concern, there are efforts underway by opponents to counter Trump's campaign in the state.

"We are very clear eyed that Donald Trump has set his eyes on Minnesota and on winning in 2020. We knew that very early on and so we have been preparing and building a statewide infrastructure to beat him again,” said Elianne Farhat, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota.

The organization endorses what it considers progressive candidates and pushes causes from wage and marriage equality to broader access to affordable health care.

Farhat said TakeAction Minnesota stands ready to help convert Democrats’ anger and frustration to political organizing and coalition building to meet Republican efforts in Minnesota.

“When folks go out and when they protest Donald Trump, I think that’s a good response if that’s what they need to do. That cannot be all that we do. We are doubling down on our organizing. We are putting out messages that connect people across difference, across race, class gender zip code,” she said.

Trump lost Minnesota by fewer than 45,000 votes in 2016, but not because he dramatically outperformed Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate. The big difference was on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton garnered nearly 180,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012.

Political consultant Matt Fuehrmeyer helped Democrats win control of the House in last year’s midterm elections as director of research and strategic communications for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Looking to 2020, he said Democrats cannot continue allowing Trump’s reelection campaign to outpace them.

“You’re seeing a lot of money and organization sitting on the sidelines waiting for a nominee, which frankly, they can’t afford to do if we want to take back the White House.”

Fuehrmeyer said he’s concerned Democrats nationally do not understand the threat Trump poses in Minnesota.

And Fuehrmeyer said Trump’s efforts to win Minnesota could hurt down-ballot Democrats in the state from Sen. Tina Smith’s reelection campaign to Democrat’s effort to retain control of the state House and flip the Senate in their favor.

"National Democrats and folks with the resources and the money to help the party win back the White House need to see Minnesota not as a state that Democrats are going to win but as a state that Democrats are going to have to fight for,” Fuehrmeyer said.