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In Mankato, Trump rips critics, vows to win Minnesota

By Brian Bakst, Minnesota Public Radio News

Hoping to win over Minnesota in the fall election, President Donald Trump on Monday pounded political opponents as a threat to the nation and portrayed himself as a law and order candidate during an hourlong campaign speech at the Mankato airport before heading to Wisconsin and vowing, “I’ll be back.”

Donald Trump

“We’re going to have an election that is all about the survival of this nation,” Trump told supporters.

In remarks similar to those he made in October in Minneapolis, Trump attacked opponents in Minnesota and around the country, from Minneapolis DFL U.S. Rep Ilhan Omar to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

He described former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s expected to formally receive the Democratic nomination this week, as “a “puppet of left-wing extremists trying to erase our borders, eliminate our police, indoctrinate our children, vilify our heroes, take away our energy.”

Trump called on Minnesota voters to “not let this happen. You will deliver a historic victory for our values, our citizens and our treasured way of life.”

Trump’s aggressive push comes as his path to reelection has narrowed since the coronavirus hit, and he’s been forced to play defense in the states that carried him to reelection four years ago. Minnesota, viewed as a GOP pickup opportunity a year ago, now appears to be slipping out of reach, Republicans say.

Trump’s team has spent more than a year building a volunteer network, registering voters and pounding the pavement. They had a head start as Democrats sorted through the process of choosing a nominee.

On the ground Monday at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Monday before heading to Mankato, Trump invited business owners hit by rioting damage to tell their stories. Some said they were trying to rebuild but needed help. Others told the president that consequences for wrongdoing were needed.

About 150 people heard him speak in Mankato. With the coronavirus pandemic, the audience was expected to be more limited.

Trump credited his tariff and trade policies with aiding Minnesota farmers, manufacturers and miners on the state’s Iron Range.

Others disputed that.

John Steigauf, a leader with the International Association of Machinists, said manufacturing jobs have been cut since Trump’s inauguration. Plant closures near Mankato, St. Cloud and other regional hubs are devastating to rural communities.

Steigauf said if Trump wants to take credit for jobs added back as the pandemic restrictions have eased, he needs to be held accountable for what happened before then, too.

“I’m still waiting to see where those jobs are. All we’ve seen is plant closures and pink slips,” Steigauf said on a call organized by the state DFL Party prior to the president’s speech.

‘Striking distance’

Trump’s campaign is working to widen margins in greater Minnesota counties to offset a likely Democratic vote advantage in and around the Twin Cities.

Blue Earth County, home to Mankato, went for Trump in 2016 by about 1,100 votes. He fell short of winning Minnesota by 44,000 votes or 1.5 percentage points.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, whose district includes Mankato and a wide swath of Minnesota farm country, said Trump’s support is strong in southern Minnesota.

“This time the polls show him right there in striking distance, and I got to tell you on the ground out here folks like the president’s message of law and order,” Hagedorn said before Trump’s remarks, adding that visits like this will only strengthen that backing. “Any time we can hear the president’s message of economic opportunity, keeping Americans safe and, of course, protecting our constitutional rights we’re really happy about it.”

Crop conditions are good across much of Minnesota, with a better-than-average harvest expected. The U.S. Agriculture Department says Minnesota could have a record corn crop this fall. But prices are still below the break-even point for corn and soybeans, so farmers remain concerned about low prices and the impact of trade disputes on future prices.

Mining support

While Trump made his remarks in the state’s farm country Monday, he remains popular in northeastern Minnesota with his moves to impose tariffs on imported steel and revive a proposed copper-nickel mine outside Ely.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the government canceled federal mineral leases that Twin Metals needs to mine, and proposed a 20-year moratorium on new mining proposals near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Since taking office, Trump has systematically reversed those moves, reissuing and extending the mineral leases then cutting short an environmental study of the proposed mining.

Twin Metals has since submitted mining plans to both state and federal regulators, the first step in a yearslong review and permitting process.

‘Ignite the pain’

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin on Monday criticized Trump’s Minnesota stop as “nothing more than a desperate publicity stunt and a distraction” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Donald Trump’s presidency has been a complete disaster for Minnesota families — from his attacks on Social Security, his harmful trade policies and his attempts to roll back the ACA [the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act] and key protections for our air and water,” Martin said in a statement prior to the speech.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who got his political start in the Mankato area, told Minnesota delegates to the party’s national convention that he discouraged the White House from building in a Minneapolis stop where Trump would visit the George Floyd memorial.

Walz said Monday that he told Trump’s aides that using the site as a backdrop would “ignite the pain and the anguish that we’re feeling in Minnesota.”

The president’s published schedule does not include such a stop, but presidents sometimes have unannounced additions during visits to states.

Minnesota hasn’t backed a Republican for president since 1972. And Democrats are intent on making sure Trump doesn’t break through.

Trump last visited Minnesota in October, when he spoke to a large crowd at Target Center in Minneapolis.

MPR News reporters Mark Zdechlik, Tim Pugmire, Dan Kraker and Dan Gunderson contributed to this report. The story also includes reporting from the Associated Press.