The only state to oppose Reagan flirts with conservatism.
By contrast, Jacobs says the Minnesota GOP is dynamic and has decided to "leapfrog [to] a new generation of Republican leaders who have a homegrown mix of conservative policy issues on gay marriage, on abortion, as well as a very conservative position against taxation, with some centrist policies on health care and education." Pawlenty has broken with the White House and jumped on the drugs-from-Canada bandwagon, "brazenly bucking federal law" by launching a Web site for state residents to buy cheap meds from over the border.
There's more good demographic news for the Republicans. Seventy percent of recent population growth in Minnesota has occurred in outer-ring suburbs near the Twin Cities. These young suburbanites pouring into new beige tract houses are solidly Republican: culturally conservative, concerned about security, and less interested in Humphrey's prairie populism than were their parents, who worked in the mines and factories. The 3M Company symbolizes the state's changes. Those three Ms stand for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. But now the company is known for that staple of modern cubicle life, the Post-It Note.
So trends aren't exactly going the Democrats' way. But the Twin Cities and the once heavily unionized northern area known as the Iron Range will go solidly for Kerry, possibly by a big enough margin to offset the exurbs. There are two big wildcards: First, Ralph Nader did very well here four years ago, winning 5.2 percent, and he's on the ballot again. Second, Minnesota is one of only seven states that allow Election Day registration, and in 2000, nearly 20 percent of voters didn't register until they showed up at the polls. That means a last-minute surge or mistake or catastrophic event could tip things dramatically.
Still, the famously reserved Minnesotans sometimes just seem to enjoy electing maverick firebrands, regardless of party label. And they may soon get a chance to do it again.
To the roster that includes Humphrey, Wellstone, and the gaffe-prone wrestler Ventura, voters could add the name Al Franken. The Harvard-educated comedian is considering a run for the Senate against Coleman in 2008, and the Democrats are ecstatic. When Franken broadcast his Air America show from Minneapolis last week, the 1,000-seat hall was packed and boisterous. His appearance at the state fair last summer also got lots of attention. Republicans seem to take his run so seriously that state chair Eibensteiner is already calling Franken a "carpetbagger" from New York, which is where Franken was born, although he grew up near Minneapolis. But is that really the best argument? Coleman also hails originally from New York, and (unlike Franken) he has the accent to prove it.
Does Franken have a chance? Could he breathe new life into the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party? As they like to say here, you betcha!
Andy Bowers is the Executive Producer of Slate Podcast.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.