As Trump targets Minnesota, DFLers want to see Biden

A man speaks at a podium.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday in Charlotte, N.C.
Logan Cyrus | AFP via Getty Images

On the heels of the Republican National Convention, Vice President Mike Pence pays a visit to Duluth on Friday, marking the fourth time he or President Donald Trump has come to the state this year.

The Democratic ticket hasn’t been through, and that’s causing some anxiety among some party activists who acknowledge that Minnesota is a true battleground for the first time in a long time. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden has mostly avoided in-person campaign events during the coronavirus pandemic, opting instead for virtual or satellite television appearances. He didn’t travel to Wisconsin for the Democratic National Convention this month while Trump and Pence both paid visits. 

“We’re leaving the door open for them to continue to come to the states and not counter it with anything,” said Justin Perpich, a former 8th Congressional District DFL chair and Minnesota campaign veteran. “That kind of worries me.”

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Aside from revving up the party base, candidate visits often lead the news for days in local media. Perpich argues that it’s tougher to attract attention if the principals don’t stop by. He said he’s fielded calls from people fretting about the campaign strategy.

“Why aren’t they here? We need to hear from them,” Perpich recounted of the contacts he’s gotten. “We need to see their presence on the ground.”

The Biden campaign said late Thursday that Biden does plan to campaign in person after Labor Day, including to Minnesota, but did not release details.

Biden’s campaign insists it’s invested in must-win Minnesota. It has been holding virtual action events and making considerable voter contacts via phone calls, text messages and email. Events that draw a crowd could be viewed as contradictory to the calls to heed the COVID-19 health precautions.

Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said his party’s field operation is extensive and mobilized. He said he won’t be surprised to see Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, come through before November.

“There’s no doubt that it’s tightening, and I would have to imagine that the Biden-Harris campaign as they’re looking at Minnesota are going to have to put more resources here to make sure we keep it in the blue column,” Martin said. 

Martin said there’s no reason to panic, but he understands why some on his side are uneasy.

“Donald Trump is personally obsessed with flipping Minnesota. He’s a trophy collector,” Martin said. “There’s no bigger trophy for a Republican running for president than to flip Minnesota, which has the longest streak of any in the nation of voting for the Democratic nominee.”

Democrats have used the Trump and Pence stops to hammer the administration over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice and economic hardship facing many families. 

Pence is due to speak about taxes, trade and regulation during his afternoon visit to a warehouse along Duluth’s seaway port. The federal government recently awarded more than $10 million toward an expansion of the marine terminal key to overseas shipping. 

Trump himself packed an arena in Duluth two years ago. The Pence event won’t be that. A select number of invitations were sent out by the campaign and state party to allow attendees to spread out.

The Trump campaign is placing a big bet on Minnesota this election, and the Republican ticket’s standing in the north will go a long way to determining if it pays off.

The region has long been dominated politically by Democrats, but Trump kept it close in St. Louis County in 2016. He won the sprawling 8th Congressional District by a comfortable margin.

Natural resource issues are driving the president’s campaign message in the area. He touts his administration’s accommodations for mining, oil pipelines and logging.

Underscoring the theme was Scott Dane, who wore a “Make Logging Great Again” hat while speaking during the Republican convention this week. Dane, the executive director Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota, praised Trump and criticized Biden in his remarks.

“When plants closed in Duluth, Sartell, Cook and Bemidji, they were just numbers on a paper to the Obama-Biden administration,” Dane said. “To me, they were people and jobs and families.”

In more than four decades of party involvement, St. Louis County Republican Party Chair Ron Britton said he can’t remember a time when there was more enthusiasm on the ground. He’s having trouble keeping local headquarters stocked with T-shirts, buttons, caps and more.

“Everybody wants a flag. Everybody wants a sign. We don’t have any Trump signs,” Britton said. “We had to have some made. ”

 Who has asked for the items has gotten Britton’s attention, too.

“People were undercover last time. They didn’t want to say when they came in to get signs, ‘Oh I’ll get signs for my neighbor but he doesn’t want to be seen coming into the building,’” Britton said. “It doesn’t happen this time. They all come in.”