AP NEWS

Trump hires Minnesota campaign manager, plans visit Aug. 19

August 5, 2016 GMT

Donald Trump has hired a campaign manager for Minnesota, a sign the Republican presidential candidate sees at least some potential in a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton is expected to win.

Mike Lukach started as Trumps state director last Monday. The young GOP operative managed the 2014 congressional campaign of Republican Stewart Mills, who lost to DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in northeastern Minnesotas Eighth Congressional District. Many Minnesota Republicans see potential for Trumps anti-trade message to catch fire in that part of the state, particularly the economically struggling Iron Range.

Lukach confirmed his new position Friday to the Star Tribune but declined an interview request. Trumps New York-based campaign spokeswoman did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

David FitzSimmons, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, said he heard from Lukach this week. Emmer is Minnesotas only Republican member of Congress to endorse Trump.

He proactively reached out, he wanted to talk about some of the basics of statewide races in Minnesota, FitzSimmons said of Lukach. Its always easier to go in and start playing then try to start something from scratch if something starts to develop late.

FitzSimmons acknowledged its late to try to mount a serious effort given Election Day is three months off.

He doesnt have a lot of ramp but hopefully he can get a move on, FitzSimmons said.

Trump is scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Minnesota on August 19 hosted by a couple of the states prominent GOP donors, and including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. With the general election underway, the New York businessmans abrasive campaign style and outrageous statements continues to foster open dissent and concern among many of the partys most prominent figures, both nationally and in Minnesota.

The states long unbroken record of electing Democrats for president has kept it off lists of likely swing states. But even if Clinton prevails in Minnesota, campaign spending by Trump here could also benefit Republicans in competitive congressional and legislative races by bringing out more conservative and working class voters in outstate Minnesota.

The Iron Range, under frequent economic duress thanks to the global steel economy, could be ripe for a protectionist trade message like the one Trump has aimed at blue collar workers.

These fakes who call themselves Democrats oppose mining, the right to own a gun, freedom of speech, our American values, and the style of life we have on the Iron Range, Eveleth Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich wrote in a letter last week to the Mesabi Daily News, describing himself as a disaffected Democrat and urging others like him to vote for Trump and Mills in November.

National and swing-state polls conducted since the two party conventions ended have been almost entirely good news for Clinton and bad news for Trump. The last statewide survey here, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll in late April, showed Clinton leading Trump statewide by 48 to 35 percentage points, although the same poll found her much less popular in outstate Minnesota.

(Trumps) visit and his new local staff should be setting off alarm bells with the Clinton campaign in Minnesota, said Brian LeClair, a former GOP state senator from Woodbury who has been volunteer organizing for Trump.

Its not yet clear whether more Trump hires or money will flow into Minnesota. Clinton has already invested significant resources here, with a campaign manager, a spokeswoman and other paid advisers and organizers based in Minnesota. Campaign infrastructure like that can be deployed not just to benefit the presidential candidate but also party allies in competitive congressional and legislative races. The Clinton campaign in Minnesota reports that since March, it has conducted nearly 1,000 hours of voter contact in the Eighth Congressional District: through house parties, phone calls, voter registration events and canvasses.

Clintons campaign in Minnesota is planning a focus on jobs and economic security in the coming weeks. On Monday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is campaigning in Rochester, Minneapolis and Duluth on behalf of Clinton in what the campaign is calling a Made in Minnesota Jobs Tour. She will stop at Minnesota manufacturing companies, trying to harmonize with recent Democratic criticism about Trumps history of manufacturing Trump-branded products overseas.

While Clinton holds the polling advantage, Trump in recent weeks seems to have overcome her national fundraising advantage largely on the strength of small individual donors. If that holds, his campaign would have money to spread around that could help drive more conservatives to the polls.

For Minnesota Republicans, the likeliest benefit of that would be come in competitive outstate races. In addition to defending its House majority, the state GOP is trying for a state Senate majority and trying to boost Mills in his rematch against Nolan. But suburban Republicans might not reap similar benefits: U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen from the southwest metro to date has withheld from endorsing Trump.

In addition to managing Mills 2014 campaign, Lukach according to his LinkedIn profile has worked since 2012 on Republican campaigns in a handful of states including Illinois and Indiana; and briefly last year for the presidential campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He is a native of Massachusetts.

If Trumps planned August 19 fundraiser goes off as planned, it will be the first time he sets foot in Minnesota as a presidential candidate. His campaign has not yet said if Trump will make any public appearances in Minnesota. Clinton has been here several times in the last year.

Patrick Condon 651-925-5049