DE­CI­SIVE STATE

Min­nesota at the heart of elec­tion bat­tle for US Congress

Global Times - - World -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has vis­ited Min­nesota twice in less than six months. Po­lit­i­cal strate­gists are parachut­ing in from Wash­ing­ton. The writ­ing is on the wall: this is a crit­i­cal elec­tion bat­tle­ground state.

It is also a state where a much her­alded Demo­cratic “blue wave” could crest – or peter out – in next month’s midterms.

From sprawl­ing forests on the Cana­dian bor­der and vast farm­lands in the south to the high-tech med­i­cal re­search fa­cil­i­ties in the twin cities of Min­neapo­lis and Saint Paul, the state is a mi­cro­cosm of Amer­ica’s shift­ing elec­torate that of­ten de­fies tra­di­tional party lines.

Min­nesota – nick­named the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” – has not voted for a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date since Richard Nixon, back in 1972.

But in 2016, the un­think­able nearly oc­curred, as Trump came tan­ta­liz­ingly close to snatch­ing the state from Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“On Novem­ber 6, I need your vote, I need your sup­port to stop rad­i­cal Democrats and elect proud Min­nesota Repub­li­cans,” Trump told an en­er­gized rally last week in Rochester, south of Min­neapo­lis.

Repub­li­cans are de­fend­ing their ma­jor­ity in the US Congress, where all 435 seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are up for grabs, as are 35 seats in the 100-mem­ber Se­nate.

Democrats are in prime po­si­tion to re­take the House, which would give them con­sid­er­able power to block the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent’s leg­isla­tive agenda.

The elec­tion fault lines run right through Min­nesota, home to 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple, where four con­gres­sional races are com­ing down to the wire.

Democrats hope to flip two dis­tricts, but are also strug­gling to pre­vent a Repub­li­can takeover of two his­toric left­ist bas­tions.

The state’s two in­cum­bent Demo­cratic se­na­tors, the pop­u­lar Amy Klobuchar and new­comer Tina Smith, are un­likely to be ousted. But Repub­li­cans are not ad­mit­ting de­feat just yet.

Min­nesota has “be­come one of these cen­tral states for po­lit­i­cal con­tests in 2018,” po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Steven Schier of Car­leton Col­lege, lo­cated out­side the Twin Cities, told AFP.

“There’s all sort of out­side money com­ing in” to sup­port can­di­dates in a state with one of the high­est voter turnouts in the coun­try, Schier said.

Health, econ­omy the main is­sues

Sev­eral ma­jor is­sues pre-oc­cu­py­ing the Amer­i­can elec­torate are crys­tal­iz­ing here.

Trump’s met­als tar­iffs have been wel­comed by min­ers in the his­tor­i­cally Demo­cratic north, while the trade war with China and visa re­stric­tions for sea­sonal work­ers have left farm­ers in­dig­nant in the Repub­li­can­lean­ing south.

And loom­ing like a shadow over Min­nesota is the nag­ging ques­tion of health care, with pro­posed Repub­li­can changes threat­en­ing to leave large num­bers of peo­ple with di­min­ished or no cov­er­age.

The is­sue strikes a nerve for Demo­cratic can­di­date Angie Craig, who was raised by a sin­gle mother in a mo­bile home and spent part of her child­hood with­out health in­sur­ance.

“This is re­ally, re­ally a very per­sonal is­sue to me,” Craig told vot­ers at a re­cent round­table event.

Craig, 46, is chal­leng­ing in­cum­bent Ja­son Lewis in con­gres­sional Dis­trict 2, which Democrats hope to swipe from Repub­li­cans.

As a gay can­di­date with a wife and four chil­dren, she cuts a unique fig­ure in a dis­trict that has never sent a woman, let alone a les­bian, to Wash­ing­ton.

But in a year with a record num­ber of women can­di­dates in the run­ning, polls are fa­vor­ing her.

“I’m very op­ti­mistic that the coun­try is ready for a change, and so is this dis­trict,” she told AFP.

The de­ter­mined grand­daugh­terin-law of a farmer ac­knowl­edges that Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion did well to rene­go­ti­ate some trade pacts, such as the one with Canada and Mex­ico, that were “not ex­actly fair.”

But “by start­ing a trade war in adding tar­iffs with China, it’s re­ally hurt­ing our soy­bean farm­ers,” she warned.

Craig also crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment’s sub­si­dies to com­pen­sate corn pro­duc­ers as in­ad­e­quate.

That po­si­tion res­onates with Bill Sorg, who runs a farm founded by his an­ces­tors in 1886 near the Mis­sis­sippi River.

The sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian man­ages 300 dairy cows and grows corn, soy­beans and al­falfa on 1,600 hectares.

De­spite his per­ma­nent smile, trade ten­sions be­tween Amer­ica and the rest of the world worry him.

Even though he does not ex­port crops, the slide in China’s de­mand for US soy­beans has de­pressed prices.

Sorg will vote for Craig – he says she “un­der­stands the plight of the ru­ral com­mu­nity.”

“And I think she un­der­stands the prob­lems with health care,” he added.

Be­fore pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s re­forms took ef­fect, Sorg’s five-mem­ber fam­ily was pay­ing $20,000 per year for in­sur­ance, he re­called.

Key state in 2020

The dy­nam­ics are dif­fer­ent in Min­nesota’s north.

The state’s min­ing com­mu­nity ap­plauded Trump’s trade tirades, and Pete Stauber, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in his­tor­i­cally Demo­cratic Dis­trict 8, sup­ports the pres­i­dent.

“Unem­ploy­ment is low, op­ti­mism is high, small busi­nesses are hir­ing and in­vest­ing in their com­pa­nies and con­sumer con­fi­dence is off the charts,” Stauber, a vet­eran po­lice of­fi­cer and one­time mi­nor league hockey player in a state ob­sessed with the sport, told AFP.

Go­ing into the cam­paign’s fi­nal month, Stauber is polling neck and neck with his Demo­cratic op­po­nent Joe Radi­novich.

Given such shifts in its elec­torate, Min­nesota will be “one of the key swing states” in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race, said Schier of Car­leton Col­lege. “It’s quite likely who­ever car­ries the state of Min­nesota will be the next pres­i­dent of the United States.”

Demo­cratic con­gres­sional can­di­date Angie Craig (2nd from left) and US Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tim Walz (2nd from right) at­tend a cam­paign event in Min­nesota, the US.

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