Early voting starts in Minnesota today both in-person as well as through mail-in balloting. Both options are available to all Minnesotans without the need for an excuse. To mark the date, both major party nominees are making stops in the state. While recent polling has suggested Biden as a lead in the neighborhood of 9 points, the Trump campaign believes they can flip the state red for the first time since 1972. The Biden campaign, has signaled that they are not taking their current polling lead in the state for granted. The chosen county each candidate will be visiting offers a potential insight into current strategy. While it is unknown how many more stops (if any) each candidate may make in the state after this week, for at least one day Minnesota will be the center of attention.
Trump: Beltrami County
Beltrami County flipped red in 2016 for the first time in a presidential contest since 2000. Trump’s vote share in the county was the highest for a Republican presidential nominee since Nixon in 1972. No Democrat since has won the White House while losing Beltrami County since Woodrow Wilson finished in third place there behind Eugene Debs and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. (Prior to 1924, the County contained present day Lake of the Woods county)
The County is less white than the state as a whole, though has a lower level of college education. The percentage of the population with education beyond high school is more on par with Wisconsin statewide rather than Minnesota, making the county move to the right of the state in 2016.
The DFL-friendly portions of the county are the Red Lake Indian Reservation (the only “closed reservation” in the state) as well as Bemidji. Bemidji is the site of today’s visit by the president and a city that he carried narrowly in 2016. Outside of those two, much of the rest of the county is rural, white & working class. If Trump is going to carry Minnesota, he will need to at the very least hit his 2016 numbers here.
By traveling to Bemidji, the Trump campaign is signaling that they understand the path for Trump: continue to improve in rural communities and smaller cities such as Bemidji that voted for Obama twice before flipping to Trump. While the population shifts in the state are towards the 7-county Twin Cities metro, the Trump campaign hopes that there is enough of a window remaining in 2020 for a heavily Republican rural vote to overcome growing Democratic margins in the once Republican-friendly Twin Cities suburbs.
If we were not in the middle of a pandemic, his event tomorrow would be more likely to be centered in the vote-rich Twin Cities in a large venue. The Bemidji airport, however, allows for a moderate size crowd outside, without the risk of a large number of empty seats.
Biden: St. Louis County
Hillary Clinton carried St. Louis County in 2016, though both her vote share and margin of victory were the lowest since Roosevelt’s 1932 performance. While the City of Duluth will likely keep this county blue, the remainder of the county has moved to the right.
Aside from Duluth (the location of Biden’s visit to the state), St. Louis county is primarily centered in the cities of Hibbing, Chisholm, Eveleth and Virginia along the Mesabi Iron Range. Aside from moving Duluth back towards Obama margins, Joe Biden would solidify his lead in Minnesota if he is able to improve across the iron range.
The Biden campaign hopes that improvements in places like St. Louis county where Trump made up significant ground in 2016, will allow him to close the popular vote/electoral college gap. Recent polling has suggested that Biden is doing just that. While he may be losing some support among Hispanics in Florida, Biden is making up for it by winning back some of the Obama/Biden coalition from 2008 and 2012 in the Midwest.
In the presidential primary this year, Biden outperformed his 8.75-point statewide margin by nearly 3.5 points. His strongest State Senate district was the 6th which contains much of the Mesabi Iron Range.
Worth mentioning that Duluth shares a media market with a portion of northwest Wisconsin where Trump also made significant gains in 2016. His visit will bring local news coverage that will be seen by key voters that Biden needs to win back in Wisconsin as well as Minnesota. This visit could be one that kills the proverbial two birds with one stone. The locations of campaigns stops are never accidents.
Aaron Booth (@ActorAaronBooth) is a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.