Tale of two cities
Hibbing and Woodbury show Minnesota's political evolution
By Chris Williams
HIBBING, Minn. -- John Chamernick stood at the fenced edge of the gaping Hull Rust Mahoning Mine and explained how his hometown seemed to be fading away, along with his state's long tradition of voting for Democrats in presidential elections.
Miners still pull 175,000 tons of earth from the vast iron mine every day, but huge new pieces of equipment have replaced the old labor-intensive methods. With a smaller union work force for that and other reasons, Hibbing is shrinking and aging.
Chamernick's five children went off to college and never came back. "No jobs here," said Chamernick, 72, a proud Democrat who spent 34 years working in the mining industry.
One of his children, Barbara Dean-Hendricks, settled in a fast-growing Twin Cities suburb. "Woodbury is not quite as Republican as you can get, but it's close," she said.
The recent histories of ebbing Hibbing and exploding Woodbury illustrate one of the underlying trends that could make President Bush the first Republican to win the state's electoral votes since 1972.
While the population of Hibbing on the Iron Range fell from 21,200 in 1980 to 17,100 in 2000, the census bureau reports the population of Woodbury quadrupled from 10,300 in 1980 to 46,500 in 2000.
"The growth of the suburbs from the immigration of Republican voters have given Republicans in very short order a very good base of operations," said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
Jacobs said 70 percent of the state's growth between the 1990 and 2000 censuses came in the wealthy outer Twin Cities suburbs, including Woodbury. Poll data suggest that could prove advantageous to the GOP.
Jacobs' group at the university, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute, released a report in July that said outer-ring suburbs were "solidly Republican and are the most supportive of Bush," while urban areas and inner suburbs were less so.
Census data show it's one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation.
So even though Minnesota has a long tradition of voting for Democrats, many suburbanites don't have a long tradition of being Minnesotan.
In Woodbury, Census 2000 showed that nearly a third of residents weren't born in Minnesota, and about one in six didn't live in the state in 1995. "They may have substantially different values than someone who was born and raised here," he said.
One Iron Range union organizer said union members in the area shrank from 10,000 in the 1980s to about 4,000 now. Chamernick said those were bad years. "A lot of people left, the younger ones."
Whether the Iron Range would remain a political force depends on whether it can attract new residents, perhaps by capitalizing on the area's scenic beauty.
Woodbury went for President Clinton in 1996, but President Bush took it in 2000. The areas of fastest growth in the fast-growing suburb were also the most Republican, according to election data.
Chamernick figured he would see the day when Minnesota will send its electoral votes to a Republican.
"Sure, it will," he said. "Ten years, it could be. There's a good chance it could be this year."