Our View: Minnesota will be a bigger player in 2016
If you want to be president, book a flight to Minnesota.
Earlier this week, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of four announced candidates challenging Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton to succeed President Barack Obama, campaigned in Minneapolis. While Sanders' impassioned speech during which he railed against "a movement toward oligarchy" made great political theater, we can't help but be intrigued by a quieter event on the Republican side that has made Minnesota a destination for anyone who wants to be the GOP standard bearer in 2016.
The Republican National Committee has mandated the state's Republican straw poll during the March 1 caucuses will be binding. In addition, the national party is requiring Minnesota's 38 delegates to the Republican National Convention be awarded on a proportional basis instead of winner-take-all.
"It makes Minnesota, for the first time on the GOP side, a player in the presidential election probably for the first time in 20 or 30 years," said Aaron Miller, chairman of the Olmsted County Republican Party.
"You're also going to see some of those 'mid-tier' — if I can use that term — presidential candidates coming in," Miller said. "If you can pick up those delegates out of Minnesota, even though if it's just for the first vote at the national convention, you still have a seat at the table. For some of these guys, coming from the middle of the pack, it makes them relevant for the rest of the campaign."
More than a year before the 2016 Republican National Convention, which will convene July 18-21 in Cleveland, candidates already are paying their respects to Minnesota.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum visited Rochester in May, calling his appearance at the Kahler Apache hotel a "testing the waters" event before he formally announced his candidacy. Santorum's decision to come to Rochester shouldn't be surprising, considering he won Olmsted County Republican caucuses during his 2012 presidential campaign.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker met with Minnesota Republican legislators in April and was the featured speaker at the Freedom Club of Minnesota's spring dinner in Edina. Walker is expected to announce his presidential candidacy later this month, after the Wisconsin Legislature passes its budget.
Unlike the Democrats, the Republican field is crowded with nine announced candidates besides Santorum. There are at least a half-dozen other candidates who are expected to announce their intentions. You can expect most of them to campaign in Minnesota and probably in our backyard because Olmsted County has the second-largest number of "basic political operating units" in the state, Miller said.
"Any candidate coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul, whether they're fundraising or whether they're just trying to raise awareness in the state, eventually, they're going to venture down to Rochester," Miller said.
Miller described the March 1 caucus date as "almost a Super Tuesday" with several states conducting primaries or binding straw polls. Minnesota's DFL Party also will conduct a binding presidential preference ballot at the March 1 precinct caucuses, although the Democratic presidential field is expected to be much smaller.
Minnesota's delegates to the National Republican Convention will be chosen at congressional district conventions. Even though delegates will be selected in proportion to the results of the vote at the precinct caucus level in March, there still will be maneuvering for votes at the state Republican convention, when the final delegate selection is made.
Until then, the road to the presidency undoubtedly is coming through Minnesota.