Despite pullbacks, Trump team says Minnesota still in its sights

A man speaks behind a podium.
President Donald Trump speaks at a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally at Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minn., on Sept. 30.
Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images file

Updated 2:15 Friday

After it appeared this week that President Donald Trump was walking back his long-stated goal of winning Minnesota, his campaign team did an about-face Friday and said it would put a renewed focus on Minnesota in the closing days of the campaign.

Campaign manager Bill Stepien said there would be a heavy commercial presence in the last 10 days to go along with a ground presence led by 60 paid staffers and more volunteers.

“You won’t be able to turn on the TV without seeing a Trump ad,” Stepien said Friday. “We now have heavy air cover to cover the ground troops that have been blanketing the state the last few years.”

The campaign also announced Friday that Vice President Mike Pence would campaign in Hibbing on Monday.

Earlier this year, the Trump campaign reserved millions of dollars in Minnesota ad time for a full blast of commercials in the stretch run. But since September, it's been canceling planned ad buys. Public records show this week the campaign wiped out its TV ad presence entirely on major stations in Minnesota.

A Republican presidential candidate hasn't won the state since 1972, but Trump came close four years ago. Since then he has pledged to win here in 2020.  

Polling averages show Democrat Joe Biden has maintained a statistically significant lead over Trump in Minnesota for weeks. And on a call earlier this week, senior Trump campaign advisor Jason Miller essentially acknowledged Minnesota is no longer the priority it once was.

“President Trump is aggressively campaigning in every state that he won in 2016,” Miller said.

“Minnesota could still be in play as a late breaker,” just as Minnesota almost broke for Trump in 2016, Miller added.

Looking at where candidates go and where they spend money is a good way to discern their strategy. The dynamics of his reelection campaign have forced Trump to play defense rather than expand his footprint into states he lost in 2016, including Minnesota. 

"He can’t afford that right now,” said Todd Rapp, a DFL political analyst. “Because if he doesn’t win Pennsylvania and Michigan and North Carolina and Arizona, it’s not going to matter what he does in Minnesota.”

Trump has repeatedly said he would have won Minnesota if he had made just one more visit four years ago. But given the scramble to shore up support in states he carried in 2016, it’s not clear the president will be back in Minnesota before Nov. 3.

He has made several visits to hold rallies, including one in Duluth last month. 

The Trump campaign also invested heavily in staff and organizing early in the campaign season in an effort to expand the Republican base of support. 

Vera Alexander is part of that base. She lives in Isanti County where Trump won her vote in 2016 and the votes of nearly two-thirds of those who turned out in the county.

Vera Alexander works as a server at the People’s Café in Cambridge, Minn.
Vera Alexander works as a server at the People’s Café in downtown Cambridge in the heart of Isanti County.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Alexander works as a server at the People’s Café in downtown Cambridge in the heart of Isanti County.  

She’s better off because of Trump in part because the Republican tax cut put more money in her pocket, she said.

“We did make money and that’s what you want to hear, you know,” Alexander said.

Like some other Republican voters, Alexander said she intends to wait until Election Day to vote in person because she’s concerned about the security of mail-in ballots. 

Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said she's as confident as ever that Minnesota remains in play.

"We all feel very strongly that we have a chance to make history in Minnesota and flip our 10 electoral votes,” Carnahan said. “We're spending  a lot of money in the state to make sure our candidates' voices and messages are lifted up and we're feeling very encouraged coming into the home stretch." 

As Republican leaders talk up their strength in Minnesota, their DFL counterparts are guardedly optimistic.

“We feel really buoyed by the position that we’re in,” said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin, although he is mindful of Trump’s unexpected rise to the presidency four years ago.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Martin said. “We’re going to run like we’re 20 points behind.”

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