Politics and Government

Trump’s return to Minnesota has attention of both parties

Election 2024 Trump
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Minnesota Republican Lincoln Reagan Dinner Friday at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in St. Paul.
Abbie Parr | AP

Updated: 9:30 p.m.

A Republican Party fundraising dinner offered former President Donald Trump a ready-made opportunity to put Minnesota back into his sights after two prior defeats as the GOP nominee.

Trump took the stage late as he headlined the state GOP’s annual Lincoln Reagan dinner in St. Paul, which coincides with the party’s state convention.

Declaring his appearance to be “an official expansion” of the electoral map of states that could be competitive in November, Trump said, “We’re going to win this state."

“This November the people of Minnesota are going to tell Crooked Joe Biden — right? ‘The Apprentice'? ’You’re fired!'” Trump said, referencing his former reality television show and the catchphrase he used on it.

Election 2024 Trump
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Minnesota Republican Lincoln Reagan Dinner Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in St. Paul.
Abbie Parr | AP

Trump boasted that the steep tariffs he imposed on foreign steel while serving as president bought the Iron Range, the iron mining area of northeastern Minnesota, “roaring back to life.” The area’s population is heavily union and blue-collar workers and used to be solidly Democratic, but the region has been trending Republican in recent elections.

He also made a profane attack on President Joe Biden, calling him “a horrible president” who is “destroying our country” and then adding, “He’s a horrible human being too.”

Trump then shifted to calling the president a “non-athlete” and attacked his golf game, accusing him of inflating his golfing abilities and making other misrepresentations.

More than 150 people gathered on Kellogg Boulevard outside of the event center to protest Trump’s visit. They were cordoned off from about 50 Trump supporters across the street. The two sides trolled one another but stayed peaceful. 

Demonstrators held out banners reading “Safe and Legal Abortions for all,” “Free Palestine” and “Remove Trump.” Although the protest was anti-Trump, many demonstrators also criticized President Joe Biden because of his stance on issues including the Israel-Hamas War, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, according to the United Nations. 

Tracy Molm is a Minneapolis resident who said she came to the protest to voice concerns about Trump’s “hate-filled rhetoric” against immigrants, but that neither Biden nor Trump represent the values of the Twin Cities. 

“The Democrats would have to do a lot to win people over in this climate and they are doing nothing,” Molm said. “The people of this country deserve something better. The Democrats, if they aren’t willing to offer it, we will be at their convention, we will be at the Republican National Convention – we will protest both these dopes.”  

Democrats nationally haven’t done enough to show they’re serious about protecting reproductive rights, said Olivia Crull, an organizer with the Minnesota Abortion Action Committee. Crull wants Congressional Democrats to push harder to codify Roe v. Wade. 

“We don’t appreciate our fundamental human rights being held over our heads in exchange for votes. And our rights are not any more important than the fundamental human rights of the people of Palestine,” Crull said. “We will not support any war-mongering genocidal party, whether they be Democratic or Republican.” 

Doug Kern came to the convention as a delegate from Brainerd and chose to stand outside with a pro-Trump flag rather than go inside to the dinner. Kern said he’s glad to see some of the opposing protesters exercising their right to criticize Biden. 

“I see some “Dump Biden” signs over there,” Kern said. “People tell me it’s $5 for a dozen eggs right now, with Biden-omics working so well for us, will these people wake up when they’re $10 a dozen?”

Steve Lagoon came from Cottage Grove to support Trump and said he’s excited about the former president’s prospects in Minnesota this year. He likes Trump’s border and economic policies, which he said would bring down inflation, as well as Trump’s approach to crime. 

“As he says in his rallies, he’ll make America safe again,” Lagoon said. “I believe that crime has been rampant and out of control under Biden and Trump will restore order and bring some sanity.” 

Trump’s quick stop Friday could be followed by more if he deems the state truly competitive in his attempt to win back the White House. His appearance also gives both parties a boost — the cash-strapped Republicans expected to make a bigger haul with Trump as the headliner and Democrats get a chance to stir up their base amid concerns about complacency.

Election 2024 Trump
People sit for dinner before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Minnesota Republican Lincoln Reagan Dinner Friday.
Abbie Parr | AP

That Trump is here at all is a reversal from his pledge to ignore Minnesota if voters didn’t deliver him a win in 2020. 

“I lose Minnesota, I’m never coming back,” Trump said at an airport hangar rally in Duluth that October. “I’m never coming back!”

Trump has cast doubt on that loss — by more than 7 percentage points to now-President Joe Biden — and distanced himself from the no-return remark.

But even leading Democrats say another win by Biden in Minnesota isn’t assured.

“There’s 50 states around the country, and there’s only 12 of them that are a battleground and Minnesota is one of them,” said Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin. “Yes, while we’ve managed to keep it blue, that’s because we've, you know, we haven’t taken it for granted.”

Trump would be overcoming history if he flips Minnesota. No Republican has won the state’s electoral votes since 1972 — giving Democrats the longest uninterrupted streak on the national map.

Even though he lost, Trump pulled down more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. He had more than 1.48 million votes last time compared to about 1.32 million in his first bid. But Democrats also boosted their vote totals, too.  Biden racked up 1.71 million votes four years ago, a solid 350,000 more than 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

Neither Trump nor Biden have their respective bases locked in. In the March presidential primary, Trump rival Nikki Haley won about 29 percent of the vote. Biden shed about 30 percent as well, including a large number to an uncommitted push as a protest of his administration’s handling of the war in the Middle East.

November’s outcome could come down to Biden’s ability to pull those voters back in and Trump’s ability to regain support in the suburbs.

Amy Koch, a Republican political strategist and former leader in the Minnesota Senate, argued Trump can’t ignore the Haley voters.

“He may not like that but those voters are what he needs to put himself over the top, period, end of sentence,” Koch said. “And can he get them back? I’m not sure.”

Koch said 2022 should have been a good Midterm for Republicans but many women turned out because of the Dobbs decision that overturned the federal right to abortion. And that was something they blamed on Trump and other Republicans.

A spokesperson for the national Trump campaign told MPR News that they see Biden under pressure in states like Minnesota and Virginia. A spokesperson from the Biden campaign welcomed Trump to sink resources into Minnesota.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Friday told MPR News’ Morning Edition that Trump lied about winning Minnesota in 2020 and vowing not to return if the state failed to hand him a victory.

“I think this unhinged, you know, American dystopian vision is not one that appeals to Minnesotans,” Walz said. “So (I) wish him all the best, but I wish he would have kept his word that he said he wasn’t coming back.”

Tickets to the evening fundraiser featuring Trump started at $500 and went for up to $100,000 for a VIP table with photo opportunities included.

The event was not open to the public. Only media organizations selected by the Trump campaign were allowed in; MPR News had not been given access.

Both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have already visited Minnesota this year. Harris visited a women’s reproductive health clinic that performs abortion services back in March. In January, Biden was in the Twin Ports to promote infrastructure dollars invested in fixing the deteriorating Blatnik Bridge which links the port cities of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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