DULUTH, Minn. (CN) — Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump both made visits to Minnesota on Friday, courting votes in the battleground state as the first voters went to the polls.
To kick off his Duluth visit, Biden met with labor leaders at the Jerry Alander Carpenter Training Center in the suburb of Hermantown. He received a welding demonstration and talked about his push to make government agencies buy U.S.-made products.
He was joined by U.S. Senator and former primary opponent Amy Klobuchar, whose family’s Iron Range roots have long been a part of her own campaign messaging.
“We’re going to have to rebuild an economy in the wake of Covid-19, and as we do, we have an incredible opportunity to make a long-overdue investment for working families,” he said.
Biden hit on the message of increasing manufacturing in the U.S.
“When the government spends taxpayers’ money, we should spend that money to buy American products made by American workers and American supply chains to generate American growth,” he said.
Trump arrived in Bemidji for a 6 p.m. rally at the city’s airport. His camp has also pushed jobs as a major selling point, with several northern Minnesota mayors releasing a letter on Friday extolling his support for mining.
“As a result of the Trump Administration’s policies, our communities were given a much needed shot in the arm so that our towns can roar back to life,” the mayors wrote, “and there is no one we Rangers trust to bring about the great American comeback more than President Donald Trump,”
But Minnesota has figured into many of Trump’s latest ads and speeches as ground zero for nationwide civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd.
While Trump called Floyd’s death “a tragedy,” he has demonized protesters as “thugs” and used the protests to galvanize a “law and order” message targeted towards white suburban and rural voters.
Polling suggests that that messaging hasn’t done much for Trump in Minnesota, and shows Biden with a comfortable lead across the state with 57% of likely voters polled supporting him, dwarfing Trump’s 41%.
Local Republicans, including Minnesota GOP chair Jennifer Carnahan, have dismissed the polls, saying polls did not predict Trump’s 2016 win.
Minnesota is the electoral college’s most consistent Democratic state, having voted blue in every presidential election since 1976. After losing the state by a narrow 1.5% in 2016, the closest a Republican has come to winning Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes since native son Walter Mondale challenged Ronald Reagan, Trump has repeatedly announced his intent to change that.
Biden has responded, reserving $3 million for TV ads in Minnesota through November to Trump’s $14 million. While Trump’s sum is substantially larger, Biden’s is a noticeable jump from Hillary Clinton’s $1 million in Minnesota ad spending in 2016.
Minnesota is in the midst of a political reshuffle. The state’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party overwhelmingly won over suburban voters in the 2018 midterm elections, winning over the suburban 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts. Republicans, meanwhile, made big gains in rural areas once considered DFL strongholds, including the state’s 1st and 8th congressional districts.
Both candidates courted those voters in their visits, with Biden paying a visit to the northeastern industrial center of Duluth and Trump stopping in the northwestern tourist hub of Bemidji.
Democrats dominated the northern portion of the state known as the Iron Range from the end of World War II through the first decade of the new millenium, in part because of the support of unionized workers in its iron ore and later taconite mining industries. Those union numbers have dwindled in recent years, and conflicts over the environmental impacts of mining in the area have sown division within the party.
Friday was the first day of early voting in Minnesota, along with Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming. Those four states are among the earliest to begin in-person early voting, preceded only by Pennsylvania. Absentee ballots were also mailed out Friday in Minnesota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Arkansas.
2016 was Minnesota’s first presidential election with no-excuse absentee and early voting, and over 415,000 early votes were cast in that election. That number rose to over 637,000 in 2018 and is expected to rise dramatically again this year in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Absentee balloting has been bolstered by a series of court rulings and consent decrees.