In Texas, steel pipe CEOs and steelworkers plan for uncertain futures under Trump’s protectionist trade policies. Some companies are trying for exemptions from the tariffs. (July 2)
WASHINGTON – A close election in 2016, shifting allegiances in a Democratic stronghold and competing appeals to middle-class voters will throw the spotlight on Minnesota Friday as President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will each campaign in the Gopher State.
The campaign 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.
“It’s nice that Minnesota is getting attention,” said Vin Weber, a Republican political strategist who represented the state in the U.S. House and is now a partner at Mercury Public Affairs. “I do appreciate that the candidates are not just visiting the Twin Cities.”
The 2016 election changed the calculus for both Republicans and Democrats. Trump lost Minnesota by just 44,593 votes, or a margin of less than 2% of the vote, and vowed to try to flip the state in this election.
President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport on Aug. 17, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
“We came this close to winning the state of Minnesota,” he said during a rally in Duluth in 2018. This time, “it’s going to be pretty easy, I think.”
Polls suggest otherwise. Biden leads Trump in Minnesota by an average of 8.8 percentage points through Sept. 17, according to tracking site FiveThirtyEight.com.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday gave Biden a 16-point margin over Trump among likely voters, who expressed greater faith in Biden than Trump to handle issues of racial equality, crime and violence at political protests.
But a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday called the race a dead heat, with 643 likely Minnesota voters favoring Biden over Trump 48% to 44% – within the four percentage point margin of error.
Trump’s campaign says its internal polling shows the race is close.
“We are confident that our numbers are right,” said Nick Trainer, the campaign’s director of battleground strategy. “And we wouldn’t be investing time and money in a state if we didn’t think that they were right.”
Forging alliances in the Iron Range
During previous visits to Minnesota, Trump 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. Biden has focused on his support among steelworkers and other unions, with a proposal to spur domestic manufacturing through federal spending.
Trump will hold an airport rally on Friday in Bemidji in the northern part of the state, birthplace of the fictional Paul Bunyon. Bemidji is in Beltrami County, which Trump managed to flip in 2016, making him the first Republican to carry the county since George W. Bush in 2000. Biden will be in Duluth.
Both Trump and Biden have been targeting the state’s northern Iron Range, known for mining and manufacturing.
Trump will likely do well there and in other rural parts of the state where his “us vs. them” message resonates with voters who feel like those areas don’t get the same respect as the state’s urban centers, said Cynthia Rugeley, associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden listens during a campaign event with steelworkers in the backyard of a home in Detroit, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)
When Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Duluth on Aug. 28, six mayors from traditional Democratic strongholds endorsed the GOP ticket, saying “lifelong politicians like Joe Biden are out of touch with the working class, out of touch with what the country needs, and out of touch with those of us here on the Iron Range and in small towns like ours across our nation.”
“This isn’t the Democrat Party that used to fight for places like the Iron Range, just like this isn’t the Democrat Party that used to fight for places like western Pennsylvania or southeastern Ohio – and these people have woken up to that,” Trainer said.
Biden released a statement Wednesday supporting the Iron Range and promoting endorsements by unions including the United Steelworkers and AFL-CIO.He said steel shipments were down 25% last year under Trump’s administration, idling mining operations and putting thousands of people out of work, while China produced the largest monthly volume of crude steel on record in July.
Biden said his economic recovery plan would create millions of union jobs in manufacturing and make historic procurement for domestic products.
“Iron Rangers and other American workers will mine and manufacture the materials – including steel – to power that effort,” Biden said in his statement. “Together, with real authentic leadership, we will put the U.S. on a path to lead the world’s economy, and we will build back better.”
The focus on the Iron Range is part of a historic shift in favor of Republicans overtaking a former Democratic stronghold. The northeast region of the state was long Democratic because of unions for mining, steelworkers and shipping.
Weber, the former House member, tried unsuccessfully to swing the culturally conservative region filled with Catholics, hunters and fishermen to former President George W. Bush. But Weber predicted Trump could win the region with 60% of the vote.
“Trump has now swung it – big time,” said Weber, speaking from his home in Walker, about 40 miles from where Trump will appear in Bemidji.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks Sept. 9, 2020, during a campaign event on manufacturing and buying American-made products at UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren, Mich. (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)
The challenge for Trump is that urban areas of the state traditionally favoring Democrats have grown substantially in recent years, leaving northern Minnesota with just one-fourth of the statewide vote, Weber said.
“Not everything else has held even,” Weber said. “If he doesn’t make inroads into cities and suburbs, I don’t see how he can pull off Minnesota.”
Stark contrast in tax policies
Tax policy offers a stark contrast between the two campaigns.
The Trump-led tax cut in 2017 reduced individual and corporate rates, in an effort to spur the economy and return companies from overseas. He vowed to continue reducing taxes and regulations. But Biden has campaigned on the need to spend trillions – by raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations – to pay for roads and bridges, encourage domestic manufacturing and provide job training.
Weber said Trump could make progress in the Twin Cities, host to a number of corporate headquarters, by promoting the reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. The departure of Medtronic, a medical-device manufacturer founded in Minneapolis, roiled the city when it moved its headquarters to Dublin about five years ago.
Joe Biden hammered President Donald Trump’s treatment of the middle class as he campaigned Wednesday in his childhood hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Oct. 23)
“If it were properly articulated, that would be an argument in suburban Minneapolis,” Weber said. “A tax message would matter.”
Biden has argued that Trump’s tax cut hasn’t brought back jobs from abroad and hasn’t prevented more from leaving. Biden proposed to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%. He would create a 10% surcharge on top of that rate to penalize companies that move jobs aboard, for a combined rate of 30.8% on profits from those actions. And he proposed a 10% “Made in America” tax credit for companies that relocate or create jobs in the U.S.
“The Trump theory here just doesn’t pan out,” Biden campaign policy director Stef Feldman told reporters Thursday. “He has no patience for people who say that we do not have the capacity to make sure that the super wealthy and corporations pay their fair share in order to make the investments we need in working families.”
Bernie Perryman, a registered Republican in St. Cloud, said she has voted for candidates of both parties in the past. As a business owner of Batteries + Bulbs, Perryman said she wants to hear plans for reopening after COVID-19 while “respecting everybody’s feelings.”
Public health is not “a political volleyball game” and decisions must be based on fact, she said. “They’re both guilty of being kind of mean,” she said.
Emily Esch, chair of state Senate District 14 for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, wants to hear Biden’s plan for dealing with the pandemic and economic recovery.
“This has gone on for six months or so, and it looks like we’re unlikely to have this under control in January or February,” said Esch, speaking for herself and not the party.
Impact uncertain from 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.
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.
Malik Stewart, a volunteer for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, said he hopes Trump doesn’t stir up anti-Somali sentiment while in the state. But he hopes Biden addresses racial tensions.
“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.
Anthony Neis, vice chair Benton County Republican Party, said he would like to hear how Trump is cracking down on violent protesters, but also how the president will unify the country.
“We’re one America,” Neis said. “He needs to push it a little harder, or people need to listen.”
Rugeley, the political science associate professor, said she sees no evidence that Floyd’s death or the protests are shifting the presidential race in Minnesota.
“I’m not sure it has changed any minds,” she said. “It does seem to have hardened people’s opinions on the issues.”
Weber, who owns a condominium in Minneapolis, said he is frightened of the protests making the city a lawless place. But he said that Trump’s campaign for law and order might not resonate in presidential voting as much as for mayor and city council.
“I haven’t seen evidence yet that the suburban voters have been moved by that message,” Weber said.
Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump announces the wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and its police department.
Gopher State gets national spotlight
Trump’s campaign had just one staff member in Minnesota when he narrowly lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton four years ago. This time, the campaign has 80 full-time staffers across the state and has been advertising heavily. In this week alone, the campaign is spending seven figures on television ads in Minnesota.
The Trump campaign announced an ad Thursday running on cable and local broadcast stations focused on the economy. The ad targeting Minnesota and other battleground states features voters discussing their distrust of Biden and their confidence that Trump’s policies are right for the country.
The Biden campaign announced advertising Thursday on digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube that highlight the importance of manufacturing and unions.
The ad targeted at Minnesota and a handful of other battleground states features a Pennsylvania voter who says he made a mistake voting for Trump in 2016 and won’t again in 2020. The voter named Rick, a third-generation farmer, calls Trump “totally negligent” for failing to control coronavirus and help the economy, and says Biden has a plan to turn it around.
Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, held a virtual fundraiser Monday with Walter Mondale, the former vice president and senator from Minnesota. Jill Biden, the candidate’s wife and a teacher, campaigned Sept. 9 at an elementary school in Prior Lake about a half-hour south of the Twin Cities.
Pence will campaign in Minneapolis on Sept. 24.
“I’m happy that people are actually paying attention to this state and wanting to come here,” said Neis, the Benton County GOP vice chair.
Despite the Trump campaign’s push, Rugeley doesn’t see him turning Minnesota red in November.
“Anything could happen this year,” she said, “but I think right now it’s probably Joe Biden’s to lose.”
Biden probably realizes that, too, Rugeley said, which is why he’s returning to the state on Friday. He wants to make sure “that he doesn’t lose it,” she said.
Contributing: Nora Hertel and Sara Kocher, St. Cloud Times
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