EAGAN, Minn. — Dozens of Minnesotans turned out for a President Donald Trump re-election campaign event in the Twin Cities suburbs on Wednesday, Aug. 19, as the campaign continues its efforts to counter-program the Democratic National Convention this week.
A hot pink bus emblazoned “Women for Trump” has been making its way around the state throughout the week, and on Wednesday morning parked outside of the Trump campaign office in Eagan, Minn., about 16 miles south of Saint Paul. Inside, the office was full of supporters donning campaign T-shirts and red caps. Few wore face masks, despite the continued spread of coronavirus in the state, and executive orders mandating them and prohibiting large gatherings.
Supporters chanted “four more years!” and waved campaign signs and poms poms as campaign surrogates entered the room: Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan, U.S. Senate candidate and former congressman Jason Lewis, U.S. House candidate Tyler Kistner and senior Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson. They did not wear masks while speaking, or posing for photos. Kistner wore a face mask but at times moved it down past his chin, exposing his mouth and nose, to speak with constituents in the crowd.
Dozens of attendees at a Women for Trump rally in Eagan. MN CD2 Republican candidate Tyler Kistner says he heard someone on TV say there are “no women in the suburbs who support Donald Trump” and the crowd called back “nooooo!” pic.twitter.com/Fi932MAheQ— Sarah Mearhoff (@sarah_mearhoff) August 19, 2020
Kistner, a Republican vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, opened his stump saying he heard on television that “there are no women in the suburbs who support Trump.” The crowd booed and cried “no!” in response.
“God bless, we proved them wrong today,” he said to the packed room.
Eagan, a suburb of nearly 67,000, is in the famously purple Congressional District 2: Despite electing President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the district favored Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a two-point margin in 2016, and elected Lewis to their House seat by a less-than-2-point lead over Craig the same year. Two years later, Craig ran again in 2018, and ousted Lewis with a near-six-point lead.
Recently, Trump has been making a more concerted effort to woo suburban voters, saying in several tweets that “people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream” would “no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” after his administration rolled back Obama-era expansions to the Fair Housing Act. He also made an appeal to the “Suburban Housewives of America,” threatening that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream.”
Lewis, who is now running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, told the crowd Wednesday that, “When it comes to making certain we protect the suburbs, nobody’s been fighting harder” than the Trump administration.
"Let’s be honest, we want freedom and prosperity for everybody," Lewis said. "But starting in the Obama Administration — and nobody knows it more than the 2nd District — there has been a war on the suburbs going on."
Lewis went on, referencing ongoing civil unrest throughout the state and country following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He warned, “This challenge with public order, don’t think it’s going to stop.”
“We saw it move up to Hugo this week,” he said. “We don’t want it coming to Eagan and the rest of the state.”
Later Wednesday evening, on a virtual campaign event for Biden, Minnesota state Sen. Melisa Franzen, D-Edina, accused Trump and Republicans of "using suburban moms as a political prop." A self-proclaimed "proud suburban mom" and woman of color, Franzen accused Republicans of ignoring calls for change following Floyd's death, including in the suburbs.
"We’re ready for change and ready to take action to see that change happen," she said. "This is not time for fear mongering. This is a time for purposeful, fearless leadership."
Sally Miller, executive director of Minnesota's state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, in a written statement took shots at the Women for Trump bus tour, saying, "Trump’s record has been nothing short of a disaster for Minnesota women."
"From his attacks on health care, to rolling back rules around equal pay, Trump didn’t just break his campaign promise to be ‘the best’ on women’s issues, he completely disregarded it," she said.
Minnesota has the longest-running streak in the nation of supporting Democratic candidates for president, but Trump lost to Clinton by less than 2 percentage points statewide in 2016. The Trump campaign has signaled through numerous campaign visits and millions in ad dollars that they want to flip the state red this November. Pierson told the crowd Wednesday she’s confident this will be the year, and added that, “This is the most important election.”
"I don't think people understand how close we came to losing our country in 2016," she said. "If Hillary Clinton were elected" — she was interrupted by scoffs from the crowd, and one woman saying, “We’d be dead" — "she couldn’t have had a robust, massive, substantial economy built that could have withstood this pandemic."
"Where would we be today?" she asked. "God knew who we needed at that time."
"Amen," the crowd replied.
Since the pandemic took hold in Minnesota in March, nearly 915,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment benefits, per the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Editor's note: This story has been edited to more accurately reflect the mask-wearing practices of campaign surrogates present for the event.