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Trump, Biden to hold rallies Friday in Minnesota

By Catharine Richert and Brian Bakst, Minnesota Public Radio News

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will be in Minnesota on Friday — the same day as President Donald Trump is slated to hold a rally in the state.

The former vice president announced a drive-in rally in St. Paul Friday afternoon, which would be his second visit to the battleground state this election season. The campaign didn’t release any further details about the event.

Trump’s Friday rally in southern Minnesota was originally set to be held at the Rochester International Airport but then moved to a private company about a half-hour west in Dodge Center, McNeilus Steel. By late afternoon Thursday, however, that plan was off the table, too.

Glenn Sylvester, the company’s chief operating officer, had said earlier in the day that he expected several thousand people to attend, but wouldn’t say if the company would cap the event at 250 people as state COVID-19 rules require. In an email to McNeilus staff, though, Sylvester wrote that the company expected 25,000 people at the rally.

Later Thursday, Minnesota GOP Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said she expected the rally to be back at the Rochester airport with an invitation-only crowd, rather than as a general admission event.

The sudden change led Republicans to blame state officials for interference close to an election.

Carnahan accused DFL Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison of “playing games with the campaign and denying people’s free right to go and hear from their president four days from the election … We do not live in a world run by tyrannical power leaders.”

A Walz spokesperson said the governor’s office had not communicated with the Trump campaign during the day.

An Ellison spokesperson said the attorney general’s office asked McNeilus Steel for a preparedness plan Thursday morning and never heard back.

“We did not cancel the event. We have no authority to cancel any events,” said spokesperson John Stiles. “We never cancel any events. We tell people what their responsibilities are and they decide whether or not to go forward.”

When the Rochester airport was first chosen, Mayor Kim Norton said the city had been in negotiations with the Trump campaign to sign a contract to adhere to the 250-person limit at the airport.

But a day before the event, Norton said she understood the campaign was looking for a venue that would allow a larger crowd.

The late push by both candidates signifies the importance of the state’s 10 electoral college votes as they chase the required 270 to win the presidency.

Minnesota has long been Democratic turf in presidential races. No Republican presidential candidate has won Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972. Trump has made it a personal project to flip Minnesota, after coming close in 2016, losing the state to Hillary Clinton by fewer than 45,000 votes.

The president has held large rallies recently in Duluth and Bemidji, despite Minnesota’s gathering limit of 250 people aimed at tamping down the spread of the coronavirus, which has been setting new records this month in a fall surge.

On Thursday, Minnesota health officials reported 2,872 new COVID-19 cases, a daily record high for the state. At the same time, hospitalizations have also hit a high water mark and deaths from the disease are at a near-record level, as community spread has fed a growing surge across the state, but especially outside the Twin Cities metro area.

In the meantime, state health officials continue their plea for Minnesotans to wear masks, social distance, and stay home if at all possible — even from political events.