It's a big week in Minnesota politics.
Voters will get an up-close look at the rivals for the presidency this week and also will have the chance to start casting their general election ballots.
Friday will be the center of it all. President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, will both campaign in Minnesota.
Trump, the Republican nominee, is doing another of his fly-in rallies. This time he’ll be in Bemidji.
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He’s been visiting a lot of regional airports outside of the big cities. He was in Mankato in August.
Biden’s itinerary hasn’t been released, but his campaign said he would appear in the state Friday for the first time this race. He has avoided the rally scene because of coronavirus precautions. His stops in other states have been tailored around messages he’s aiming to get across — appearances at factories to talk about blue-collar jobs or a church to stress race and fairness.
Both campaigns are treating Minnesota as though its 10 electoral votes are up for grabs despite going for the Democratic nominee in every year since 1976. Four years ago Trump came within about 45,000 votes of defeating Hillary Clinton in Minnesota.
"I would say the fact that both of the top principals in this campaign are coming in on the same day shows the relative importance of Minnesota in this contest,” said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. “It is a very important state. It looks likely right now if you look at the battlegrounds around the country that it's just coming down to probably nine states right now. Minnesota is one of them."
Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have an operation here like we haven’t seen from the party in modern times. They’re staging registration drives, are out door-knocking and holding boat parades. They say they’ve made 3 million voter contacts here.
Members of the Trump family as well as Vice President Mike Pence have made multiple visits in recent months.
"In parts of Minnesota that are already very strongly red, we want to make those more red. In parts of Minnesota that are on the other side of the spectrum that are very deep blue, we want to make those less deep blue and in all the places in between we want to make sure that we're getting out in front of people,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan.
The Biden campaign has been doing a lot of virtual appearances and is phone banking. They’re not out canvassing in the same way.
But this is more of a referendum on the incumbent, and DFLers hope that the intensity around denying Trump a second term wins out over traditional in-person campaigning.
Both campaigns are spending heavily on advertising.
Glossy ads are arriving in mailboxes. Digital banners are taking up Instagram and other social media feeds. And TV ads are coming in heavy.
Trump’s campaign is focusing on the late-May riots in Minneapolis into their advertising, part of his bid to be the law-and-order candidate. One Minnesota-specific spot shows Joe Biden in front of flames, cites Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and draws a contrast:
“Chaos and violence and their calls for defunding police would make it worse. President Trump is making it stop, making crucial resources available to protect Minnesota’s families. Communities, not criminals. Jobs, not mobs,” one commercial says.
Biden has specifically said he opposes the defund movement. But he’s got his own ad that seems to answer the Trump line of attack.
“I want to make absolutely clear: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. It’s lawlessness plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted,” Biden says in his ad. “Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames. He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
Biden also has spots about the coronavirus and the economy in rotation where he’s laying out his vision. Trump has other commercials where he touts a great American comeback, also set to dramatic, pulse-racing music.
Early voting begins this week
The visits are clearly timed to the kickoff of voting. People can begin casting early ballots for the November election starting Friday.
Secretary of State Steve Simon said there are two ways to vote early for the majority of Minnesotans.
"One is to vote in-person absentee, which means you go in person to vote just like you would on Election Day, but it's not at your normal polling place,” he said. “It's typically at a city hall or a county courthouse and if you don't know where that is, you can always find out. We have a website MNVotes.org, you can type in your address and find out where that place is."
Simon said the other option is to request a mail-in ballot and vote from home. He said people who've already asked for a mail-in ballot will begin receiving them later this week.
Simon said he expects early or absentee voting to be sky high: 80,000 applications for ballots have already come in. He won’t be surprised to see it top a million — so possibly one-third of the eventual electorate.
He said the campaign attention will only drive voter interest.
“Not only is it a potential battleground state but it’s one where voting starts earlier than the rest of the country,” Simon said. “I think that naturally invites a lot of visits and candidate attention, and that’s a good thing.”
MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.