ST. PAUL — President Donald Trump on Thursday, Oct. 10, touted his administration's efforts to greenlight permits for mining projects in northern Minnesota, which combined, have allowed the region to "flourish."
In his rally at the Target Center as well as in an interview with Duluth's WDIO-television, the president credited his administration with putting the region "back in business" after his administration re-opened the Superior National Forest and the Iron Range to industry.
Since taking office, Trump has slapped tariffs on foreign steel, which helped turn around the economy in northern Minnesota. And his administration reopened land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to mining.
"In the previous administration, they put our nation’s natural resources under lock and key, including thousands and thousands of acres in a place called Superior National Forest," Trump said. "Last year, I traveled to Duluth and announced that we would be ending this injustice, reopening Superior National Forest, and restoring mineral exploration for the iron ore mines of Minnesota. Tremendous jobs. And now the Iron Range is back in business."
The project has drawn support from mining groups that say the project would boost the area's economy, while environmental advocates have said it could cause irreparable damage to the Boundary Waters. More than a year ahead of the 2020 election, a handful of Democratic presidential hopefuls have come out in opposition to mining in the area and to replacing the aging Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Minnesota.
Republican Party leaders said they were hopeful that Trump's policies and the party's push for jobs would help the president (and other Republicans) carry the area of the state that has historically backed Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates. And the region could be key to helping Trump snap Minnesota's longest-in-the-nation streak of supporting Democratic presidential candidates.
But that won't happen if the DFL has anything to say about it, party leaders said. Democrats used the president's visit to Minnesota this week to launch a fundraising campaign that generated more than 1,000 contributions.
"When Trump says he is trying to win Minnesota, this time he’s not lying," Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin said. “That said, I’m confident that Minnesota will stay blue. The Minnesota DFL has not lost a statewide election since 2006 and huge pockets of voters who supported Donald Trump in 2016 have come back to the DFL and to our positive message of improving people’s lives. Our Party is more organized throughout the state, we are not resting on our laurels and are prepared to fight Trump in every zip Code throughout Minnesota."
The political fight for the Iron Range isn't new. And both Democrats and Republicans point to their party's actions in highlighting efforts that have helped bring back mining jobs in the region.
Trump's speech was the latest example.
Democrats from the region, meanwhile, have credited the Obama administration with helping boost business when the former president thwarted foreign efforts to dump steel. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has faced internal division though when it comes to many of the mining and pipeline projects.
Northern Minnesota Democrats, especially outspoken Iron Rangers, support the projects and say they're key to keeping the region's economy moving. But a growing wing of the party has come out in opposition to the proposals, saying they pose a danger to the environment and could damage tribal lands and resources.
“We have very strong voices on both sides of those issues, we have the Democrats that feel very strongly in support of mining projects and the pipeline projects as well," Martin told Forum News Service. "So for us, I have always felt like we need to make sure that we as a party are not allowing issues where there’s a divide to turn us inward and fight each other, to find our common purpose, find those things to agree upon and fight for those.”
"We don’t expect people to march lockstep and sometimes that makes for a messy experience because there’s a lot of very strong feelings on different sides of those issues," Martin said.
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, told the Forum News Service that the state's Republican Party for about six years has been courting union workers that may have voted for Democrats in the past. And Republicans stand in agreement around the efforts to expand mining and pipeline projects in northern Minnesota.
“The Democratic Party is divided between what we would view as extreme environmentalism and the blue-collar union jobs, which is mining, which is manufacturing, which is the pipelines," Gazelka said. "We believe that they would rather be with the party that wants to get them the jobs.”
Forum News Service reporter Sarah Mearhoff contributed to this report.