Minnesota is turning out to be a serious battleground in the 2008 election. A recent Star Tribune poll placed it at even. This post should be read as an attempt to explain why this might be. In 2004, John Kerry held Minnesota with 51-48, or by about 100k votes. The dynamics on the ground are such that this is probably a maximum for a Democratic vote, while there is evidence that John McCain is making progress against Barack Obama among key demographics.
Let’s start with how Obama adds votes. In 2004, Minnesota lead the country with 69% student turnout and had 79% turnout overall. Significantly increasing on those numbers will be very difficult for Obama. In addition, there are practically no African-Americans. In other words, the two bases of Obama’s expanded registration and GOTV universes are not really applicable.
At the same time, Obama has room to bleed. Northern Minnesota is traditionally labor union Democratic. Voters are often pro-gun and pro-life, like their two Democratic Congressmen. According to Survey USA, McCain is winning NE MN 55-41. In 2004, Kerry won St. Louis County 65-34. Eyeballing the numbers suggests that St. Louis, which contains Duluth, is much more liekly to be almost split.
There are three reasons for this: Sarah and Todd Palin and Barack Obama. Two weeks ago, Todd Palin attended a Snowmobilign event up there. People knew him by name as the world snow mobiling champion. They know that Sarah is a hockey mom and working class. She even sounds a little like them. And Todd is a union member, a steeleworker. At the same time, in an area that is "white working class" and "traditional", Obama would be expected to struggle. The cross-tabs indicate he is.
On a macro level, people are coming out for McCain who would not be expected. One of the leaders of "Citizens for McCain" is former Democratic Congressman Tim Penny (who I met in MSP). He represents southern Minnesota and still has some organization in the community. Last week Scott LeDoux, a sportsman with a very popular radio show endorsed McCain. And there is an active (female) Hillary Clinton supporters-for-McCain operation, such as Lisa Sissini who wrote a piece in the Star Tribune recently.
There is reality on the ground to this. I will be following this closely and have more details.