Campaign signs in Atkin, MN. Sept. 5,2020 Credit: Lorie Shaull

For four years, Donald Trump has been obsessed with winning Minnesota in 2020—visiting the state five times. Clinton beat him by only 1.5 percent in 2016, making it one of the closest races that Trump lost that year. To bolster the president’s fixation, right-wing media has claimed that the state was on the cusp of turning red. 

But on Tuesday night, Minnesota was the first state in the Midwest to be called for Biden. It wasn’t close. The former vice president won by over seven points. What he achieved in Minnesota helps explain what’s going on elsewhere in key upper Midwest states–including his narrower victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and (if present trends continue), Pennsylvania.

Trump actually got more votes in Minnesota than he did in 2016. So the first thing to note about Biden’s win is that turnout was key. While Trump added 200,000 votes to his total, Biden added 350,000 to Clinton’s 2016 total. On Wednesday, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon announced that turnout had already reached 78.1 percent, an increase of three percent over an already impressive 75 percent 2016.

Where did Biden garner those additional 350,000 votes? He won the nine counties Clinton took in 2016, improving on her record by five to nine percent in all of them. That includes Hennepin and Ramsey (two metro urban counties), Dakota and Washington (two major suburban metro counties), four counties along the shore of Lake Superior in the northeastern part of the state (Carlton, St. Louis, Lake, and Cook), and Olmsted County (Rochester). You might remember that Trump traveled to Olmstead County (home of Mayo Clinic) on the Friday before the election. Biden won there with 54 percent of the vote, while Clinton squeaked out a win with 45 percent.

What is perhaps even more impressive, Biden actually flipped four rural Minnesota counties from red to blue: Clay, Nicollet, Blue Earth, and Winona. He accomplished that by improving on Clinton’s record in each of them by five to eight points. 

Finally, even in counties that Trump won in 2016 and 2020, Biden outperformed Clinton’s totals. The day before we learned that the president had contracted COVID-19, he visited Bemidji, which is part of Beltrami County in the northwestern part of the state. Trump won there, but Biden kept it close by getting 47 percent of the vote, an improvement of seven over Clinton’s 40 percent.

Contrary to what we assumed going into this election, the story in Minnesota is not about an ever-escalating battle between rural and urban America. Instead, what we see is that all across the state, in urban, rural, and suburban counties, Trump hung on to his base, while Biden significantly outperformed Clinton’s record in 2016. 

What happened in Minnesota is similar to what we see in Wisconsin and Michigan, although the results were slightly less dramatic. While Trump secured his base, Biden benefited from increased turnout.  

The former vice president flipped two counties in Wisconsin from red to blue: Door, a popular vacation destination that juts out into Lake Michigan, and Sauk, a suburban community northwest of Madison. 

Overall, Biden outperformed Clinton’s numbers in many Wisconsin counties by four to five percent. That was not only true in urban Milwaukee County but also more rural counties like Eau Claire and Oneida. Altogether, it was enough for Biden to take Wisconsin by 0.6 points—a 1.3 percent shift from Trump’s 0.7 percent victory in 2016.

In Michigan, Biden flipped three counties from red to blue: Saginaw, Kent, and Leelanau. In 2016, Clinton got 45 percent of the vote in Kent, which includes the city of Grand Rapids. Biden won it with 52 percent.  Clinton won Wayne County (Detroit) with 66 percent of the vote. Biden upped that to 68. In suburban Oakland County, Biden bested Clinton’s percentage by five points. On the other hand, Trump won Eaton, a rural county located just east of Lansing, in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. But Biden improved on Clinton’s margin there by 4.5 percent. 

The pattern in Pennsylvania looks somewhat different. There, as my colleague Martin Longman reports, Biden didn’t do appreciably better in most rural counties than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Instead, the lead he’s building is based on bigger percentage wins in the Philadelphia suburbs and the former heavy-industrialized counties in the state’s Northeast, including Lackawanna, where his hometown of Scranton is located. But if Biden’s path in the Keystone State is not the same as in Minnesota, the destination looks to be.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.