MN Caucuses: canary in U.S. political coal mine

Bernie Sanders speaks in Hibbing on Friday, Feb. 26. PHOTO: Local 1938)

Bernie Sanders speaks in Hibbing on Friday, Feb. 26. (PHOTO: United Steelworkers Local 1938)

This evening, Minnesotans head to their precinct caucuses to declare their preference for the next President of the United States.

The Minnesota Caucuses begin at 7 p.m. I wrote about what to expect at your caucus in my Sunday column. (Also includes jokes).

Meantime, 10 other states will hold primaries or caucuses today as part of Super Tuesday.

For both the Democratic and Republican parties today will not yet decide the respective nominations. Super Tuesday will, however, be an important indicator of the strength of the respective frontrunners: Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans. If opinion poll results hold up in voting, Clinton and Trump could end up on a sure path toward likely victory.

Naturally, the other remaining candidates hope to disrupt this fateful outcome.

On the Democratic side, Minnesota has been treated as a very competitive battleground state. In terms of expectations, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders needs the state most. He’s certainly behaved as such, appearing here three times in four days in different corners of the state: Here in Hibbing last Friday; Rochester on Saturday; and Minneapolis yesterday.

For better or worse, Sanders is remarkably consistent on his message: break the oligarchy controlling public policy through campaign contributions, single-payer health care, raise the minimum wage, get more money into the middle class by taxing higher incomes and big banks. He also talks about ending unfair trade practices, which plays particularly well here on the Iron Range right now, where cheap foreign imports have shuttered half the iron mines.

Clinton has the backing of Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, all popular figures within Minnesota’s unique Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Eight years ago, she carried much of the Iron Range despite the strength Barack Obama showed in winning the state overall.

Sanders would like Minnesota to perform for him just like it did in 2008 for President Obama. An increasingly young, metro liberal base putting up huge numbers to counteract more moderate rural voters. And it may.

But there is also the chance that Minnesota performs for Clinton like it did for John Kerrry in 2004. In that race, the surging outsider Howard Dean had faded before he even got to Super Tuesday, and Kerry’s momentum swept Minnesota with it. After Clinton’s near 50-point drubbing of Sanders in South Carolina last Saturday, one could feel a lot of air leave Bernie’s balloon. Sanders would need a rally, probably a bigger one than Minnesota can provide.

Nevertheless, I predict a Sanders victory, though probably closer than Obama’s victory eight years ago. Sanders will do well on the Range, in Duluth, the Twin Cities and major regional centers. But Clinton is no slouch here. Without any accurate polling it’d be impossible to say what might happen.


Alex Hanson, Flickr CC

Alex Hanson, Flickr CC


For Republicans, tonight’s caucuses will determine whether the general popularity of Donald Trump among Republican voters can overcome an entire political party apparatus working to defeat him. Virtually every elected Minnesota Republican leader or party operative that I know or follow online has been railing against Trump for months. Lately, most have coalesced behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, though there are pockets of support for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

I think Trump will win the Minnesota caucuses. Rank and file Republicans I know are excited about him. I know people going to their first Republican caucus to vote for him. But if the GOP manages to push Rubio over the finish line for some reason, it will show that Trump can be stopped if party leaders unify against him.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there’s any stopping Trump for the Republican nomination without blowing up the Republican party. He might be a monster to some, but he’s a monster created by the last 20 years of Republican political strategy and tactics. And he’s about to crash the village.

But the GOP isn’t the only party where a significant amount of crow will be consumed in the run-up to the general election. On the DFL side, Sanders’ backers have been particularly hostile to Clinton’s candidacy. If she prevails, she’ll have a lot of work to do to convince Sanders’ young, idealistic supporters to re-enter the fold.

Her task will be made easier by the specter of a President Trump, however, a prospect I don’t think many Democrats are taking as seriously as they should. Nevertheless, one would think a modern democracy could produce a campaign that wasn’t focused on who *not* to vote for.

All I know is this: In 2008, my neighbor and I enjoyed a tense car ride to our precinct caucus as she supported Clinton and I supported Obama. Tonight, she’s driving to a different caucus to support Trump (or maybe Kasich) while I drive to the DFL caucus still conflicted between the candidate I opposed then and another who was the longest serving independent in Congress until last year.

Certainly things have changed.

Some like to say that all of this is a response to President Obama’s time in office. I disagree. Obama has governed as a moderate on foreign policy and from the center-left on domestic policy. His most significant legislative controversy — Obamacare — was essentially the same idea Richard Nixon had in the early ’70s. I think the conservative response to the Obama presidency is the more important part of the story.

No, the 2016 election is a product of our culture. Divisions among people and their varying world views are playing out in remarkable ways. When I supported President Obama eight years ago I once wrote of his potential to be a “transcendent” president. While I was certainly more than a little pie-eyed in that assessment, Obama has nonetheless governed (in my view ably) during a time of change. And I still have *hope* (get it, hope and change) that once our nation maps out its deep differences that we can finally begin to reforge the union around better ideas and surer ideals.

Could be rough, though. Let’s see how tonight turns out.


  1. Phoenix Woman says

    I was an early Edwards backer who voted Obama in 2008 and have no problem with voting for Hillary in 2016. Neither do most of the people who backed Obama in 2008 because they liked his policies, as opposed to the white indie voters who flirt with Rand/Ron Paul or the sort of people who used to hang out at FDL. The fact that Hillary served in Obama’s cabinet should tell one where she stands in relation to hiim.

    As for wanting to be swept away, issues or emotions-wise: Educated white males have the luxury of choosing their issues. For everyone else, the issues choose them. People of color have long been experts at voting their issues rather than their emotions. They are the Democratic base nationally, and are growing in importance in Minnesota. POCs who are Millenials are 2-to-1 more likely to back Hillary than Bernie; their parents back her by even stronger margins.

  2. Obama has seriously eroded the Democratic Party
    Obama lost both houses of Congress
    Obama lost the vast majority of the state legislatures
    Obama lost the majority of governorships
    Obama has cozied up to America’s enemies and snubbed our friends
    Obama has put us deeper in debt than any other president, ever
    Obama lawlessly welcomes illegal aliens
    Every major bureaucracy of Obama’s is awash in scandal or charges of incompetence (the GSA, EPA, ICE, IRS, NASA, Secret Service, VA to name just a few)
    Obama’s Obamacare has raised premiums and deductibles to levels we’ve never seen…all so granny has contraceptive coverage
    Obama’s red lines have diminished U.S. credibility around the world to new lows
    Obama set the Middle East is aflame, has China marking out new atolls like pirates, and has Russia eyeing & raping its neighbors. (He is however on speaking terms with Castro)
    Obama has personally transformed race relations. For the better? You be the judge
    Obama believes our number one problem is global warming
    And this guy (and Hillary OMG) inspires you?? You must be a golfer..

  3. Oh, go take a drink or something, Ranger. Honestly…

  4. Most of what Bob said here, Indy, are opinions. Some of the things he states as fact, such as that Obama has put us deeper in debt, are misleading. The national deficit has gone down under President Obama by a not insignificant amount. But as long as Congress refuses to raise taxes or cut the largest thing in the budget — defense spending — we will continue to have a deficit. Especially if you don’t want to cut entitlements like Social Security or Medicaid.

    The rest is the same old stuff Bob believed eight years ago. And it occurs to me that we’ve been together a long time, Bobby! I keep changing, but you stay the same. What does that say?

  5. Ranger47 says

    The truth doesn’t change good friend!
    Don’t let Aaron mislead or confuse you Independent, you’re right on, what I’ve stated are facts.

  6. Ranger47 says

    Aaron, there’s nothing misleading with the fact that B.O. has put us deeper in debt than ever…$10 billion when he took office growing to $21 billion when he leaves. What don’t you get?

  7. Ranger47 says

    Oops, trillions, but who’s counting..

  8. Ranger, explain how Obama managed to put us $10 billion in debt when he took office which means that he inherited $10 billion in debt. You must have had a ton of red marks and comments on your school work.

  9. Bobby, you’re like one of those bearded lizards, poofing yourself up, running side to side to keep birds from eating you.

  10. Well, Sanders took our precinct 57% to 43%. I’ve only heard of Clinton prevailing in one caucus in Minnesota. People are fed up and responsive to his message. She really doesn’t have a message, other than “I’ve paid my dues and deserve the nomination.”

  11. Ranger47 says

    Come on now Aaron, don’t go Saul Alinsky on us…stick with the subject matter

  12. Ranger, March 1st, I have no idea what you are trying to say but the tone doesn’t sound very Christian.

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