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Political Geography: Minnesota

Minnesota has a reputation as a liberal bastion, the only state that voted for Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan in 1984. But that reputation obscures the fact that Minnesota’s Republican Party is deeply conservative, and has grown more so over the last decade, a shift catalyzed and solidified by the rise of the Tea Party. Look no further than the former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who represents Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District.

Mrs. Bachmann’s district is probably the place to start in a tour of the state’s Republican electorate (our tour guide is Lawrence R. Jacobs, a professor at the University of Minnesota and the director of the school’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance).

The Sixth District sits like a toupee, including 1970s-style sideburns, atop St. Paul and Minneapolis, which are Democratic strongholds. The area, dotted with megachurches, is predominately exurban and has a significant evangelical community. It is probably the most reliably Republican of all Minnesota’s congressional districts.

The Second Congressional District, is comprised of seven counties to the immediate south of the Twin Cities, and mostly mirrors the Sixth District: exurbs that vote reliably Republican.

The Third Congressional District looks like an ear stuck on the west side of the Twin Cities. It covers almost all of Hennepin County and should be some of the most fertile electoral ground for Mitt Romney. The district is made up of Minneapolis suburbs and exurbs, and the Republicans here are more affluent, better-educated and relatively moderate. Until 2009, the district was represented by Jim Ramstad, a Republican criticized by many conservatives as a RINO (Republican in name only).

The rest of the state is relatively rural and will not make up a large share of caucus-goers. That being said, Minnesota’s rural counties are somewhat peculiar, colored by a conservatism tinged with populism. In 2008, Mike Huckabee was in many ways a perfect fit for the area, and he won many of Minnesota’s most rural counties in the northwest and south.

The Iron Range in the northeast, an area that as the name suggests is known for its mining, has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold where union membership is significant. Rick Santorum, who has focused on resurrecting American manufacturing and industry more than the other candidates, could do particularly well in this area.

Ron Paul’s base of support, and it is substantial in Minnesota, is harder to pinpoint geographically. He will do well in university towns of course, but he might also do well in the Iron Range and among the state’s farmers.

But three districts — the second, third and sixth — will most likely decide Minnesota’s caucus. In 2008, the counties comprising those three districts were among Mr. Romney’s best, and he won the state handily.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.