Pence talks jobs, law and order at campaign stop in Duluth

Vice President Mike Pence waves
Vice President Mike Pence waves after arriving at the Duluth International Airport for a campaign stop in Duluth, Minn., Friday.
Jack Rendulich | AP Photo

Vice President Mike Pence made a campaign swing through Duluth Friday on the heels of the Republican National Convention, marking the fourth time either he or President Trump has visited Minnesota this year.

Pence spoke for about 40 minutes at the Clure Public Marine Terminal along the Duluth-Superior harbor in front of a backdrop of railroad cars draped in banners proclaiming “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” Pence focused on jobs and the economy, arguing only President Donald Trump could be trusted to rebuild the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“President Trump will always stand for the way of life of the hard-working men and women of northern Minnesota and the Iron Range,” Pence said. 

Trump-Pence supporters gather in Duluth during VP Pence's visit.
A couple hundred people gather in Duluth as Vice President Mike Pence visits the northern Minnesota city on Friday.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

He praised the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and said the country is “on track to having the world’s first coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year.”

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And he focused heavily on themes of law and order, saying violence in the streets of America’s cities would not be tolerated. 

“I don’t have to tell you people in Minnesota, there’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, and justice will be served,” he said, to polite applause. “But there is also no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that has followed,” he said loudly, a statement that garnered a much more enthusiastic response. 

About 250 people watched the speech. Many wore campaign-themed T-shirts reading “Bikers for Trump” and “Women for Trump,” among others. Few wore masks.

“We’re pro-life, we’re pro-America, we’re sick of all this hate and violence, and the message of Pence and Trump is positive and upbeat, and the other side is down in the dirt, and condemnatory,” said Lori Carlson, who drove to the event from White Bear Lake, Minn.

Near the end of Pence’s speech, he was joined on stage by two mayors from northern Minnesota, Larry Cuffee from Virginia, Minn., and Chris Swanson from Two Harbors, Minn. They were among six mayors who announced endorsements of Trump on Friday, saying they are supporting the president after many decades of voting Democratic. 

“Today, we don't recognize the Democratic Party,” said Cuffee. “It has been moved so far to the left it can no longer claim to be advocates of the working class.”

A Trump-Pence supporter sits in a chair
A Trump-Pence supporter sits in a chair while waiting for Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Duluth, Minn., on Friday.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Melissa Wieczorek of Wyoming, Minn., is also supporting Trump after twice voting for former President Barack Obama. She calls herself a “walkaway,” someone who has walked away from the Democrats to Trump. 

“I'm so passionate about this administration, and I’m just happy we were able to come up,” she said. 

Activists in Duluth held a competing event, focusing on protecting the Postal Service and demanding police reform. 

During a DFL news conference ahead of Pence’s appearance, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said it was her job to ensure that Pence had a “safe visit.” But Larson said she would not hold her tongue and called out the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said Pence’s role as head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force makes him accountable for shortcomings in implementing a national strategy to combat the virus.

“The Trump administration is one of chaos. They breed it. They incite it. They create it on purpose so they can gently drop in some kind of lip-service solution. It’s not working. We see through it,” Larson said, adding that cities like Duluth have had their budgets hit hard by the pandemic. 

Chris Rubesch, a cardiac nurse in Duluth who’s a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association state board, also criticized the administration’s handling of the pandemic. 

“We need a president who more than anything understands that the COVID-19 pandemic is very much still a real presence and reality,” he said. “And secondly we need a president who is ready to address workplace safety, for not only health care workers but for all workers.” 

The city of Duluth is a Democratic stronghold, but more rural parts of northeastern Minnesota have swung decidedly Republican in recent years. 

Trump and Pence have made the city a regular stop in recent years. Both campaigned here in 2018 during the run-up to the congressional elections, in which Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber won election in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

Vice President Mike Pence visits with Rep. Jason Lewis and Rep. Tom Emmer
Vice President Mike Pence, right, visits with Rep. Jason Lewis and Rep. Tom Emmer bumps elbows with Minn. Air National Guard Commander Chris Blomquist after arriving at at the Duluth International Airport for a campaign stop in Duluth, Minn., Friday.
Jack Rendulich | AP Photo