ST. PAUL — Both political parties see opportunity in President Barack Obama’s two-day visit to Minnesota that starts today.
For Democrats, their party’s biggest name will draw attention to a signature initiative: the large, upcoming bump in the state’s minimum wage. For Republicans, his presence alone will give them a tangible way to connect targeted Democratic candidates to a struggling president as campaign season intensifies.
Aside from a high-dollar fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Obama’s trip is comprised more of official business than overtly political events: a town hall meeting today near the roaring Minnehaha Falls and an economic policy speech delivered from the picturesque Lake Harriet Bandshell on Friday. He’ll also spend time today with a Minneapolis woman who wrote him a letter about financial hardships she’s encountered, the first in what the White House is describing as “day-in-the-life” visits.
But presidential appearances inevitably take on strong political overtones, particularly in a year when Minnesota Republicans are intent on breaking a Democratic hold on all statewide offices and legislative control. They’re most eager to defeat Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, both of whom narrowly won their respective offices.
Obama handily won Minnesota twice, finishing with nearly 53 percent of the vote in 2012. As has happened elsewhere, his approval ratings in Minnesota have sagged more recently.
“I don’t think it hurts you to stand with the president. In fact, I think in the end it helps you. Look, his numbers did take a dip here, but they’re not toxic,” Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin said. “In other parts of the country, you see Democrats holding the president at arm’s length. That’s not the case here in Minnesota.”
Martin said Obama’s planned focus on raising the minimum wage and reducing income disparities will draw more awareness to issues that are the centerpiece of Democrats’ fall campaign message. Minnesota lawmakers recently passed legislation pushing the state’s minimum wage from $6.15 per hour to $9.50 by 2016 and adopted more workplace protections for women.