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The most volatile swing state of all – POLITICO

Outside the state, the president’s caustic remarks about protesters and the mayor of Minneapolis quickly underscored the political dimensions of the unrest, and the likelihood that it would become the next cultural wedge issue — another point of contention in the urban-rural divide that stands to define the November election.

For some Republicans, it was an opportunity to light into Democratic-led cities and appeal to their own law-and-order supporters. To many Democrats, it was the latest evidence of the structural racism that infects the system and must be confronted with aggressive political action — beginning with the ouster of a president whose rhetoric has frequently inflamed tensions.

Mike Erlandson, a former chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer Labor Party, said he watched with his 15-year-old daughter in Minnesota this week as a man spray-painted on a wall, “F–k the white people from the suburbs.”

“I do think that, particularly if this continues, the [congressional] districts like Dean Phillips’ district or Angie Craig’s district that right now I would say are relatively safe for the Democratic incumbent, could be very much in play,” he said. “Both of those districts will be decided in large part by suburban women voters, and it would be hard for me to imagine those people aren’t watching this scared, like everybody else, for their family and for their children.”

The president, who has repeatedly insisted he’ll win Minnesota in 2020, quickly seized on the chaos to revisit his criticisms of big-city Democratic leadership.

“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right,” Trump tweeted Friday.

Trump’s reference to a “radical left mayor” was particularly resonant in Minnesota, whose political fault lines are felt deepest between the liberal Twin Cities and a sea of red in much of the surrounding farmland and on the Iron Range.

In 2016, Trump won 78 of the state’s 87 counties. Hillary Clinton’s narrow, 45,000-vote victory was powered by the population-rich Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Javier Morillo, a Democratic strategist and former president of the Service Employees International Union Local 26, let out a groan Friday in response to Trump’s remarks.

“It’s lawless cities versus the real America – that’s the story they want to tell, anyway,” he said. “So that’s the dangerous territory … That’s the story they tell every election cycle in Minnesota, and frankly, that’s the story that almost won Minnesota for Trump four years ago, by building up turnout in the rest of the state, and our urban turnout being depressed.”

He said, “That’s the political danger.”

Minnesota is not critical to Trump’s reelection prospects. But it is one of the few offensive opportunities he has to win a state he lost in 2016, and he has invested heavily there.

Though a Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 poll last weekend showed Trump lagging behind Biden by 5 percentage points, he had improved his standing significantly from October, when he was down 12 percentage points, and he is beating Biden in Minnesota’s rural areas and with men.

Even a marginal shift in the electorate in Minnesota could prove significant, not only in the presidential race, but in several House contests there. There are Phillips and Craig, two first-term Democratic representatives from suburban districts. But in rural, western Minnesota, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, a Democrat, is attempting to hang onto a seat that has become increasingly conservative in recent years — every county in his district voted for Trump, many by landslide margins.

This week, Republicans in Minnesota pounced on Tim Walz, the Democratic governor, and Frey, the Minneapolis mayor. Days of protests saw boarded-up storefronts and the closure of public transportation systems in the area. On Thursday, protesters set fire to the 3rd Precinct Minneapolis police station.

Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said on Twitter that Walz and Frey had “failed us all.”

“I think the Democrats are going to pay dearly for this,” said Ted Lovdahl, chairman of the Republican Party in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

While Trump claimed his tweets had been misinterpreted, Biden said Friday that he was “furious” with Trump. Democrats moved to balance calls for order while aligning themselves with people of color, a significant part of the Democratic Party’s base. The video of an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck had painful historic and political resonance, conjuring past episodes of police violence against African-Americans as well as the culture wars of a previous election cycle surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s taking a past knee during the national anthem.

“This is serious,” a local pastor said at a rally Friday, addressing people who he said were upset about Kaepernick but not by the “knee on that man’s neck.”

Democrats had expected Floyd’s death and concerns about racism and police use of force to dominate the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s state convention over the weekend, a virtual event that Biden was scheduled to keynote.

But by Friday, with the weight of Floyd’s death and unrest in Minnesota growing heavier, the state party announced that it was postponing the speaking and training portion of the convention.

Ken Martin, the party chairman, said in a prepared statement that it “was the only appropriate course of action given the grief and anger gripping much of our state and nation.” Instead of convening, he said, the party will “support the efforts of black-led organizations and community organizations on the ground that are doing the work of addressing racial injustice.”

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State swing

Key swing state warns of November election crisis – POLITICO

“My nightmare is that on Election Day in November, you’re waiting for Montgomery County’s results to declare Pennsylvania to declare who wins the White House,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, a Democrat who chairs the Board of Elections there. “The reality is that all of our counties are going to be in that same situation, and it will take a while to actually count the ballots.”

Less than two weeks away from the state’s primary, some election officials in the state said they lack the needed funding and staff to handle the massive influx of mail-in ballots they’ve received for that race. They also said the fact that they legally can’t start counting those ballots until the morning of Election Day is complicating matters. In addition to delaying a final tally, the chaos and confusion could sow distrust ahead of the general election and give fodder to those seeking to discredit its results.

“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me so far. They got the wrong party ballot sent to them. They got the wrong district ballot sent to them. And now I’m having people getting multiple ballots sent to them. These are the things that are inevitable when you rush the implementation of mail-in voting like we did here,” said Allegheny County Democratic Councilwoman and election board member Bethany Hallam. “But I’m worried that, if Donald Trump loses in November, do the Republicans use all these examples of errors with mail-in voting as their excuse to invalidate election results?”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed no-excuse mail-in ballot voting and other reforms into law late last year, making the June 2 primary the first test of those changes. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, election officials expected to have months, if not years, to acclimate voters to the option of voting by mail. Instead, they’ve been forced to transform the system overnight.

In Philadelphia, the most populous part of the state, officials predicted before the pandemic that they would get 70,000 to 90,000 applications for mail-in and absentee ballots in the primary. Through Thursday, with several days to go until the deadline, they had already received about 158,000. They said the previous record, set in a presidential general election, was roughly 23,000.

The deluge has led to a backlog: Officials said last week about 18,000 ballots are still waiting to be sent to city voters.

In Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, the second biggest county in the state, the situation is worse: It had a backlog of 80,000 ballots last week. It has received more than 225,000 mail-in and absentee ballot applications through Thursday — compared to the 10,000 absentee ballots it gets in a typical presidential primary, officials said,

“We don’t just have a perfect storm. We have perfect storms,” said Republican Al Schmidt, one of the three Philadelphia city commissioners who oversee elections here. “We have new voting technology. We have an election reform that pushed back all the deadlines. And we have mail-in ballots and the pandemic.”

Though election officials said they will process all of the mailed-in votes and that most of the errors with the ballots have been minor, they worry that news like thousands of ballots with flawed instructions being sent to voters in suburban Philadelphia’s Montgomery County will lead to increased suspicion of the new voting method.

It’s unclear which party will be harmed more by such doubts. In low-income and minority neighborhoods in Democratic-dominated Philadelphia, voters have requested mail-in ballots at lower rates than those in more affluent areas. Overall, though, 69 percent of applications processed for mail and absentee ballots in the state have come from Democratic voters, compared to 30 percent from Republicans, which some GOP insiders in the state blame on Trump’s opposition to the voting method.

Trump has railed against mail voting, claiming without evidence that it is “a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters.” On Wednesday, he inaccurately said that Michigan — like Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt giant that is critical to the president’s path to reelection — is sending absentee ballots to 7.7 million voters and threatened to withhold funding to the state “if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”

The state is sending applications, not the actual ballots, to all registered voters.

Pennsylvania has not sent mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters during the primary, though some local governments, such as Allegheny County, have. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is open to the possibility of sending mail-in ballot applications to every voter in the general election “with the necessary additional resources,” according to spokeswoman Wanda Murren. An aide to Wolf said he will make a determination on the idea “based on experience in the primary, as we understand county processing capacity and other factors.”

Boockvar also supports allowing election officials to start counting mail ballots before Election Day, but that would require action by the state legislature.

Ahead of the primary, some election officials said that unrealistic deadlines mean some voters won’t get their mail-in ballots in time. The final day a voter can apply for such a ballot is May 26, but it must be received by election administrators just a week later.

“The reality is if you apply on May 26 for your mail-in ballot, there’s no way we’re going to get it mailed out to you and you’re going to mail it back before June 2,” said Lawrence.

Montgomery County and other areas are putting out drop boxes so voters in that situation can deliver their ballots in person.

Officials said hiring freezes and budget cuts that have been implemented due to the pandemic are making a bad situation worse. In Philadelphia, commissioners planned to hire about 50 more employees to help process the new law permitting voting by mail. But they were only able to bring in 25 before the coronavirus hit.

Mayor Jim Kenney also initially proposed a $10 million increase to the City Commissioners Office this year, but withdrew the bump in a revised budget plan that he unveiled after the virus spread. Election officials throughout Pennsylvania said that the $14 million allocated to the state for election assistance in the CARES Act is far from enough.

“We would probably need millions in order to really adequately fulfill the huge lift,” said Lisa Deeley, a Democratic Philadelphia city commissioner. “My office has been a whirlwind.”

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