EAST GULL LAKE, Minn. — Judging by the urgent, no-holds-barred speeches, the results will be dire, if not bordering apocalyptic, should Republicans fail this fall.
With exactly 100 days until the Nov. 3 general election, Minnesota Republicans gathered Saturday, July 25, for a political retreat at Madden’s on Gull Lake resort where they said voters need to come out en masse to challenge liberal candidates, or the results could spell a serious regression of the state and nation stretching on decades.
“We’re here telling people this is it, this is the election of all elections,” said Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, visibly emotive during his speech. “This is the Armageddon of all elections. Unfortunately, if we lose, I think we lose the country as the Founding Fathers envisioned it. We can’t lose. We must win.”
More than 100 conservative backers took part in the retreat, which featured Hagedorn; U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber; former U.S. representative and candidate for U.S. Senate Jason Lewis; former lieutenant governor and candidate for U.S. House Michelle Fischbach; Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka; and Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt.
The tone of the event was fiery, with impassioned speeches from political heavyweights that characterized the coming election as an all-out struggle of existential proportions against what they deem secular godlessness, Socialist policies and an autocratic lust for power. Members of Congress pointed to their records in issues as diverse as copper-nickel mining and abortion, to deregulation and tax cuts, while state lawmakers touted their bonafides as conservative bastions against an overwhelming DFL presence in St. Paul.
Daudt noted the 2020 election has special implications for redistricting — both at the state and federal level — which will give the winning party sweeping powers to draw districts, or gerrymander them, as they see fit. These maps would ultimately dictate Minnesota’s political landscape for a decade, until the process is renewed in 2030.
The retreat took place while President Donald Trump plummets in statewide polls against his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan wrote these polls off as inaccurate or an incomplete assessment of the situation, just as they failed to predict the outcome of the 2016 election nationwide.
“We feel as optimistic as we did after 2016,” Carnahan said. “The president never polled well in ‘16, he was never up he was always down, no one thought he'd win the country. … You can't rely on them 100%, you have to also rely on the work that you're doing and what you're hearing from voters directly and what we're hearing is very positive for the president.”
In 2016, Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in Minnesota by an aggregate of 1.5 percentage points and ultimately lost the state by that exact margin. According to RealClearPolitics — which calculates an average based on polls by multiple statewide and national outlets — Trump is currently trailing Biden by 11.4 percentage points, with a recent July 18-20 poll conducted by Fox News placing the president a full 13 points behind the long-time Delaware senator.
Still, if there’s one lesson from 2020, it’s that a lot can change in 100 days. Carnahan said the party’s goal to turn Minnesota red is still very much in play and she expressed confidence Republican candidates would not only overcome dismal polling by the president, but handily win their down ballot races.
In a war of ideologies against what Stauber termed the “party of Ilhan Omar and Nancy Pelosi,” the Republican politicians described the current pandemic response and economic upheaval as a disingenuous ploy by Democrats to unseat Trump and win elections at the local, state and national levels. While the pandemic is real, they said, the response by Democrats is disproportionate and intended to destroy goodwill toward the president.
“I’m fighting for our way of life,” said Stauber, referencing a recent spat with Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, the 4th Congressional District congresswoman based out of St. Paul. “She’s taken a run at copper-nickel mining and now she’s included language against iron-ore mining — I won’t let that happen. It’s who we are.”
COVID-19 and Gov. Tim Walz’ mask mandate also came under fire, with Lewis, Gazelka, and Daudt describing the state’s response to COVID-19 as little more than political posturing and autocratic overreach. Shortly thereafter, they contradicted themselves by stating that many DFLers, including Walz, had a number of practical solutions based on good intentions — many of which they supported and would implement if they were in a similar position.
“None of you have any of your masks on, you lawbreakers,” Daudt joked to widespread cheers from the room filled with people defying Walz’ mandate to wear masks in public gatherings. He held up his own mask for emphasis. “I assure you these masks aren’t designed to keep you safe. These are designed to make sure that you don't want your kids to be back in school full time in the fall, and they're designed to make sure they want to vote Democrat in the election.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as of July 25, over 50,000 Minnesotans have confirmed COVID-19 infections, with over 1,600 fatalities. Across the nation, more than 1,000 Americans are dying daily, with the death toll since mid-March now reaching the 150,000 mark, based on numbers provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
While both described the use of masks as a “good thing,” Lewis said the issue should be a matter of personal choice, not law, and Gazelka said lockdown measures should only apply to vulnerable senior citizens, particularly those over 70 years of age. He noted the vast majority of fatalities are in that age group.