Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden landed Friday in Minnesota for the first of dueling campaign events with President Donald Trump over who should be trusted during the next four years to spur the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden arrived in Duluth and toured the Jerry Alander Carpenter Training Center in Hermantown. Carpenters from the center have worked on Duluth hospital, the Twin Ports Interchange and other projects.
Biden was expected to deliver an economic speech that could echo across neighboring Wisconsin, a more competitive state in the presidential race than the unlikely battleground of Minnesota.
Trump has won support across the northeast region of the state, despite the Iron Range being a traditional Democratic stronghold of unions for mining, steelworkers and shipping.
Trump, who is scheduled to speak in Bimidji at 7 p.m. EDT, and Biden will each be appealing to the same middle-class voters about who is more trustworthy to spur manufacturing and create jobs.
The visits coincide with the first day of Minnesota’s early voting period – either in person or absentee – for the Nov. 3 election. Trump is vying to win a state Democrats have carried reliably since 1972 and therefore isn’t routinely mentioned among crucial swing states like neighboring Wisconsin, Michigan or Florida.
Polls suggest a comfortable Biden lead in Minnesota, by an average of 8.8 percentage points through Sept. 18, according to tracking site FiveThirtyEight.com. While Trump won support in the Iron Range in 2016, the bulk of the state’s population is more urban and favors Democrats. But the Trump campaign says its internal polling portrays a tighter race.
In a play for urban voters, the Trump campaign unveiled a local television ad Friday for Minnesota and Michigan that criticizes Biden for proposing to raise the number of refugees welcomed to the country from Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Minnesota had about 43,000 residents who were born in Somalia by 2018, according to census estimates, which occasionally sparks tensions in the Twin Cities.
Malik Stewart, a volunteer for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in the St. Cloud area, said before the arrival of the candidates that he hoped that Trump wouldn’t stir up anti-Somali sentiment while visiting.
“That’s what I don’t want to see, but what I expect to see,” Stewart said.
Another urban issue for the the Twin Cities deals with racial-justice protests. Minnesota has been the epicenter of nationwide racial justice protests, after the death May 25 of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. But political experts said the issue hasn’t appeared to influence presidential politics in the state.
Cynthia Rugeley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said she sees no evidence that Floyd’s death or the protests are shifting the presidential race in the state.
“I’m not sure it has changed any minds,” she said. “It does seem to have hardened people’s opinions on the issues.”
Trump has called himself the law-and-order candidate, supporting police amid concerns about public safety. But Biden has accused Trump of stoking racial division rather than seeking to heal wounds from protests ranging from Portland, Oregon, to Atlanta, Georgia.
“I think it would be good to hear a positive vision for the future, specific policies to address the racial tensions in particular,” Stewart said.
During Trump’s previous visits to Minnesota, the president promoted his tariffs on Chinese steel to bolster local mining, his renegotiation of the trade deal with Canada for dairy farmers and funding for the Soo Locks shipping channel that is critical to trade on the Great Lakes.
When Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Duluth on Aug. 28, six mayors from traditional Democratic strongholds endorsed the GOP ticket and said “lifelong politicians like Joe Biden are out of touch with the working class.” Three more Iron Range mayors endorsed the ticket Friday, saying the Obama administration when Biden was vice president was soft on China as mines shut down.
Biden has focused on his support among steelworkers and other unions, with a proposal to spur domestic manufacturing through federal spending. Biden said his economic recovery plan would create millions of union jobs in manufacturing and make historic procurement for domestic products.