By Steven Schier
Special to Minnesota Lawyer
How important is Minnesota in America’s 2018 national politics? Quite important, and for several reasons. The most obvious reasons lie in the many offices up for election this year: two U.S. Senate seats, several competitive U.S. House seats (in Districts 1, 2, 3, and 8), all state constitutional offices and the entire state House of Representatives.
A broader reason lies in our state’s possession of several political traits common to the vital “swing states” of the Midwest. Political scientist David Hopkins, in his recent book “Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics,” explains why the Midwest is now the key region determining the course of U.S. politics.
He writes: “…the Midwest remains the nation’s most politically pivotal region, and even minor shifts in the voting preferences of Midwestern residents can easily prove decisive to the national outcome in an era of routinely close-fought presidential and congressional elections. … The Midwest is the last remaining corner of America where a contiguous set of vote-rich purple states remains open to persuasion by either side.”
Minnesota’s role as a “persuadable” state was very much evident in the 2016 presidential election, when Donald Trump came within 1.5 percent and 45,000 votes of being the first Republican to carry the state since 1972. Minnesota is no longer a blue bulwark for Democrats. Republicans now control the state Legislature and hold three congressional seats. The North Star State is clearly “in play” for both parties in 2018 and 2020.
Minnesota’s politics also resembles the characteristics of national politics in several important ways. Those ways help to explain why Minnesota is now a swing state for the two parties.
First, like the nation as a whole, electoral outcomes are geographically polarized in Minnesota. Just as some regions of the country as solidly Democratic and Republican, so have regions of our state now become reliable partisan enclaves. Minneapolis and St. Paul are now overwhelmingly Democratic in…