Can Minnesota Republicans win key legislative races despite Trump’s poor polling numbers?

    Thousands gathered outside the Capitol for a sit-in June 2, 2020 organized by students in response to George Floyd's death. Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer

    Republicans trying to win back control of the Minnesota House after losing the majority in 2018 remain confident in their chances despite a spate of recent polling showing their standard bearer President Donald Trump is underwater in Minnesota 

    Over the weekend, CBS News released a poll, conducted Sep. 9-11, finding former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump, 50%-41% among likely voters, with 6% saying “not sure” and 2% voting for another candidate. On Saturday, The New York Times and Siena College poll found a similar result among likely voters, with polling conducted Sep. 8-11. A KSTP poll last week also had Biden up 9 points.  

    Minnesota state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said in an interview Monday that House Republicans are still confident about picking up seats, especially in rural Minnesota, including a Bemidji-area seat currently held by DFL state Rep. John Persell.

    The battle for the House, he says, lies in second-tier suburbs, including Coon Rapids, Lake Elmo, Maple Grove and Hugo. 

    Minnesota voters have shown a willingness to split tickets in past elections, including 2016. That year, former U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen won his race in the 3rd Congressional District by more than 13 points, while Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the district by more than 9 points. 

    In 2018, however, the midterm elections saw Democrats win a crushing election victory including in suburban districts. U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips defeated Paulsen in the western suburbs, while U.S. Rep. Angie Craig wrested an east metro suburban seat away from former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis. 

    “What it boils down to is whether voters will vote like they did in 2016 or in 2018,” Garofalo said. 

    Republicans are keenly focused on winning suburban voters, crafting their pitches around Minneapolis progressives’ efforts to defund and dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department,  calling for public funds to be diverted to more social services. 

    House Republicans inadvertently tipped their hand at their strategy on Friday, when state Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, accidentally sent an email intended for his GOP colleagues to his DFL colleagues. 

    His advice to Republican members: “COVID issues are not our winning message. PUBLIC SAFETY is our ticket to the majority, let’s win with that.”

    Garofalo said suburban voters are “pragmatic,” explaining that these are “voters who want to see things improved and changed (with police departments). They don’t want to burn it down.”

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.