With ad spending increasing each week, it's clear by now what the battleground states are—and it's clear that Minnesota isn't one of them. It may not be surprising that neither campaign has aired ads in the North Star State, as Minnesota is perhaps best known in politics as the state with the longest consecutive streak of voting for Democratic presidential candidates, having last voted Republican in 1972. The fundamentals, however, point toward a tight race in Minnesota, so it's interesting that the Romney campaign has not tried to contest the state.
In reality, the state is not as blue as its New Deal liberal legacy suggests: The state has actually taken on a purple hue since 1992. Between 1992 and 2004, Democrats never exceeded 51.1 percent of the vote in presidential elections. During that period, Michigan voted more for Clinton, Gore, and Kerry than Minnesota. In 2008, Republicans chose to host the RNC in Minneapolis, and McCain vigorously contested the state, even outspending Obama 2:1 in the Minneapolis media market. As a result, Obama carried Minnesota with just 54.1 percent of the popular vote, only slightly better than his 52.9 percent nationally and less than any other state won by Kerry in 2004.
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Although Obama's tally was suppressed by McCain's concerted efforts, the state's demographics point toward significant additional opportunities for Romney. Obama has lost considerable support among working class whites nationally, and 45 percent of Obama supporters in Minnesota were whites without a college degree, comparable to other states in the Midwest. Obama can't fall back on non-white voters, since 90 percent of the Minnesota electorate was white in 2008.
Given the fundamentals, the Romney campaign's apparent decision to concede the state is surprising. Why would the Romney campaign choose to compete in Michigan over Minnesota? Michigan is more expensive, more diverse, and better for Democrats over each of the last five presidential elections. Perhaps Boston believes that Romney's semblance of a home state advantage will help, but surely that is canceled out by Romney's opposition to the auto-bailout, especially since Romney's chances in Michigan rest on white working class voters. The answer must be the polls.
While the fundamentals point toward a tight race in Minnesota, sparse polling shows Obama with an 11 point lead in the RCP average. There is some reason to question the size of that margin, as all but one of the Minnesota polls were conducted by SurveyUSA or PPP, two firms showing a Democratic house effect so far this cycle. Nonetheless, Obama and Romney's decision to stay out of Minnesota probably indicates that the polls are on to something. If Obama holds a big lead in Minnesota, it would be surprising given the competitive races in Iowa and Wisconsin. The three Upper Midwestern states have roughly moved in unison over the last six elections and it seems unlikely that Obama would be weak in two of those states without the third nearby. It is a little frustrating not to have a compelling explanation for Obama's relative resilience in Minnesota. It might be the case that the Romney campaign's polling shows a relatively close race in Minnesota, but one just out of reach in a close national election.