HERMANTOWN, Minnesota — Democrats are concerned that a groundswell of support for President Trump outside of Minnesota’s Twin Cities may be enough to win him the state over 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Biden, the former two-term vice president and 36-year Delaware senator, visited carpenter apprentices and other union workers near Duluth on Friday, his first trip to Minnesota in more than 1,000 days, according to the Trump campaign.
Yet, despite his team releasing scant details about his itinerary, even to the local press, Republicans outnumbered Democrats at Hermantown’s Jerry Alander Carpenter Training Center, worrying those who are opposed to Trump clinching a second term on Nov. 3.
The Republican National Committee and the Minnesota GOP organized roughly 300 people to line Miller Trunk Highway for Biden’s stop. Democrats had less than half that number and told the Washington Examiner they didn’t know one another. Some, though, had traveled more than two hours from Minneapolis to see their party’s standard-bearer.
Tommy Moe, a retired miner from Virginia, Minnesota, predicted that the presidential race in his state would be close again after 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by only 1.5 percentage points (or 45,000 ballots). Moe, 65, based his prediction on the number of union workers he knew who felt “an affinity” for Trump because of the China trade deal and his unorthodox approach to politics.
“We didn’t have a very good turnout,” he said. “If the Democrats don’t get their act together and start getting as fired up as the Republican side is … we need a turnout. Democrats win if they turn out.”
Lynn Welshinger, 72, agreed that the lack of organization Friday, six weeks before Election Day, was foreboding, noting some attendees didn’t even have signs when they arrived at the event.
“But I know Biden wants to keep everybody safe. That’s why he’s doing this kind of thing and not having big venues,” the Duluth retiree said.
“We’re just hoping that Biden will beat him. Who knows? People aren’t going to believe it if he does, and then, they’re going to take to the street with their guns if Trump loses,” she added. “He doesn’t care if we go into a civil war. It’s scary.”
Northern Minnesota has become increasingly conservative, yet much of the Iron Range still backed Clinton in 2016. Four years later, Biden is hoping to outperform Clinton in the region so he can put distance between himself and Trump in their contest for the state’s 10 electoral votes.
Eric Ostermeier, who curates the Minnesota Historical Election Archive and writes the Smart Politics blog, laid out how Duluth and Hermantown’s St. Louis County was critical to the state’s Democratic vote.
“It is the sixth most populous county, and Trump won only 39.7% of the vote there in 2016 — his fourth-worst showing among the state’s 87 counties,” Ostermeier told the Washington Examiner.
But St. Louis County only had 70.8% turnout in 2016, compared to 81.1% in Minneapolis’s Hennepin County and 75% in St. Paul’s Ramsey County.
“So, Biden will be looking to create more enthusiasm in St. Louis County, and this northern region where there are perhaps more votes to be found than some of the metro area counties where turnout was exceedingly high,” Ostermeier said.
Although the Trump camp vowed to spend more than $14 million in Minnesota so the president could become the first Republican to carry the state since Richard Nixon in 1972, Biden has a mathematical advantage.
Bemidji’s Beltrami County, where Trump held another airport rally Friday, is home to less than a quarter of St. Louis County’s population. Trump, who also dropped into Minnesota last month, narrowly claimed the county in 2016 with 50% of the vote and 64.8% turnout.
“In short, part of Trump’s strategy is to cobble together enough votes by boosting turnout in a lot of these more rural counties in Greater Minnesota,” Ostermeier said. “This is a bit of a long-shot strategy, however, as Biden likely has greater appeal in these regions than Clinton and can at least blunt the decline in support Democrats have endured there, if not reverse it in some areas.”
This week, Biden’s campaign debuted two new ads in Minnesota, one focusing on a former Trump voter from Pennsylvania and another on a Texas child with leukemia. They unveiled endorsements from Iron Range unions, from United Steelworkers to the AFL-CIO, as well.
“Despite the economic recovery set in motion by the Obama-Biden Administration across the Iron Range, under President Trump, demand for Iron Range products has suffered,” Biden said in a statement. “My Build Back Better plan creates millions of high-paying union jobs manufacturing and building new autos, bridges, water systems, transportation options, and more.”
Not to be outdone, the Trump team launched a new ad in Minnesota Friday about Biden’s proposal to “increase refugee intake by 700%” and touted endorsements from the Democratic mayors of Hoyt Lakes, McKinley, and Winton.
Nick Trainer, Trump 2020 battleground strategy director, praised his side’s “unprecedented ground game” for putting Minnesota in play.
“Joe Biden, who finally decided to visit the state after over 1,000 days, is leading the charge with promises of a $4 trillion tax hike and his own job-killing ‘Green New Deal,'” he said. “Minnesotans are looking for a leader who will protect their jobs, rebuild our economy, and deliver the Great American Comeback — that’s President Trump.”
Biden is pulling away from Trump after a handful of tighter public opinion polls were conducted this summer. The challenger is ahead of the incumbent by an average of 10.2 points, by RealClearPolitics’s count.