A trip through the land of ‘Q’

Kathy and I experienced an attack of déjà vu last week.

We drove up to spend a few days with a couple of friends at the lake home of one of them in northern Minnesota. The home is large, and we were able to maintain suitable social distancing to protect us from COVID-19, along with wearing masks when appropriate. 

The déjà vu hit us on both the way up and the way back. It had to do with political signs.

Back in early October of 2016 we had taken a drive to the East Coast to see relatives and friends. We decided to visit the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield in south central Pennsylvania on the way. So at the Breezewood exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike we picked up Highway 30 (yes, the same Highway 30) and headed eastward on the two-lane road toward Gettysburg.

There were “Trump for President” signs in most of the yards along the highway, in town and country alike. Not one Hillary Clinton sign. 

We knew that Pennsylvania was traditionally a safe state for Democratic presidential candidates, but the overwhelming support for Donald Trump in western Pennsylvania surprised us. 

As it turned out, Trump beat Clinton in that state by a margin of less than one percent. The Democratic turnout in Philadelphia and its suburbs wasn’t strong enough to hold off the heavy Republican vote in the rural sections of the state.

The same proved to be the case in Wisconsin and Michigan that year, and Trump overcame the famed “blue wall” of the Upper Midwest “Rust Belt” states to win the presidency in the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote nationwide by nearly three million votes.

What we saw in western Minnesota last week reminded us of our trip through western Pennsylvania four years earlier. We were hardly ever out of sight of a “Trump 2020” sign from the time we hit the Minnesota line on our way up. 

There were even a couple of Trump campaign stores along the way, where supporters could pick up signs, pins, caps and other Trump paraphernalia.

Occasionally we spotted a sign for Joe Biden, but the signage ratio was at least 100 to 1 for the GOP candidate.

In 2016, Trump surprised most of the pollsters by tallying within 1½  percentage points of Clinton in Minnesota. Clinton carried the state by only 45,000 votes. 

This year, the Trump campaign sees the possibility of an upset win in that state, and both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have visited there more than once recently.

The Biden campaign recognizes the threat, and Biden is visiting Minnesota as well. U.S. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is highly popular in her home state, has been campaigning vigorously there for Biden. Both campaigns have shelled out lots of money for TV ads, we noticed during our stay at the lake.

At this point the state looks safe for Biden. He has a lead of eight to nine percentage points in Minnesota in the most recent reputable polls, fed by large margins in the Twin Cities and their suburbs, and the Democrats enjoyed a resurgence in the state in the 2018 midterm elections.

But Clinton was also ahead of Trump in the pre-election polls in Pennsylvania in 2016.

Biden and the Democrats won’t be asleep at the switch in Minnesota. Not after the Trump “upsets” in the Upper Midwest in 2016. If Trump carries Minnesota in 2020, it will be because his campaign wins a brutal eyes-open battle there over the next seven weeks.

A side note: stereotypes don’t always prove true.

On our drive home last Sunday, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant patio in St. Cloud, Minnesota. As we were walking across the parking lot, we spotted a large white 4x4 pickup truck with two “Trump 2020” signs across the back window, as well as a couple of large signs that read “Mainstream Media=Fake News” and a very large letter “Q.” The license plate read “QANON.”

(QANON, pronounced “cue-anon,” is a conspiracy-driven group that claims a secret cabal of worldwide child sex traffickers is plotting against President Trump, who is doing battle with them, with a day of reckoning coming that will see the mass arrest of politicians and journalists.)

We tried to spot who we thought was the likely driver of the pickup when we walked through the restaurant and onto the patio. 

We settled on a woman seated at the adjacent table to ours on the patio. About 65 or 70, she had long scraggly white hair bound by a red headband that read “TRUMP 2020,” and wore a black T-shirt with “I Survived 2020 Corona” in large white letters on its front, as well as a Trump pin. Sticking out of the pocket of her baggy black jeans was a raccoon tail that held her car keys.

Kathy and I nodded at each other — she obviously was the driver of the pickup. We smugly congratulated ourselves.

We were midway through our lunch when the woman and her female lunch partner finished theirs and got up to leave. As they walked by our table, our pick as the pickup driver looked down at Kathy’s plate and commented, “My, what a lovely pizza presentation.”

Not what we would have expected her to say.

She did turn out to be the driver of the pickup. But her comment about Kathy’s lunch didn’t fit our first impression. 

Live and learn.

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