DULUTH — President Donald Trump's never-ending campaign rally landed Wednesday, Sept. 30, in Duluth five weeks out from the Nov. 3 general election.
Trump campaigned in front of a large audience outside a private hangar at the Duluth International Airport, where he joked with roaring supporters: "If I lose Minnesota, I’m never coming back.”
There was no moderator or Democratic nominee Joe Biden to push back on Trump, as there was in Tuesday's first presidential debate. Trump was combative during that event, interrupting Biden repeatedly, and ignoring cues from the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.
But under cloudy skies and light rain in Duluth, Trump was all smiles, with the stage to himself and the crowd of roughly 3,000 on his side, according to a Duluth Fire Department estimate.
Drawing chants of "U-S-A" and "four more years," Trump, in a blue suit and red tie, called Biden "too weak to lead our country."
He was surrounded by a VIP section behind him filled with loggers and a sea of red-clad supporters in front of him.
"The loggers are here because of over-regulation of our industry for far too long in Washington, D.C.," said Bill Johnson, 44, a Hayward, Wis., logging operator.
Trump highlighted the Iron Range early in his 45-minute address, calling the future of the Range a critical election issue.
“Obama closed the Iron Range and I opened it,” Trump said, not accurately reflecting how closed mines reopened by the end of Obama’s term in 2016.
Trump said he would open permits for copper-nickel mining if reelected, and reflected on his reversal of the Obama administration's decision to not allow mineral leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“The biggest thing I did was knock out his executive order,” Trump said, later adding he supported the contentious Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are vying for reelection against the Biden-Kamala Harris ticket in the Nov. 3 general election. Early and absentee voting is already taking place, with a level of intensity unseen before this year. Minnesota officials have encouraged voters to vote by mail to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Last week, St. Louis County reported receiving a record 39,000 absentee ballot applications and counting.
Trump, who has repeatedly denigrated some methods of mail-based voting, used the debate to disparage the practice and encouraged his supporters to conduct poll watching, an illegal activity if done outside of states' laws. He didn’t address mail-in voting in Duluth.
The Trump rally surpassed COVID-19 emergency measures capping gatherings at 250 people by a large margin. There were face masks offered, but few worn, and social distancing wasn't practiced among the crowd.
Matt Meyer, 39, of St. Cloud, wore an American flag bathrobe, but no mask to his fifth Trump rally.
"I think it's all a scheme for the mail-in voting," he said of COVID-19. "A glorified flu."
The Democrats were not amused by the rally.
“During last night’s debate, President Trump refused to take responsibility for his mismanagement of a pandemic that has cost Minnesota more than 130,000 jobs and claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Minnesotans,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday. “For those who are worried about keeping their small business open, losing hours at their job, or caring for an aging parent — President Trump offered nothing but excuses, lies and division.”
Ahead of Trump’s visit Wednesday, Biden was endorsed by 45 leaders from Minnesota's Iron Range, including current and former elected officials, union leaders, attorneys, business owners, athletes and lifelong Iron Rangers, such as former Congressman Rick Nolan, state Rep. Rob Ecklund, former state Rep. Tom Anzelc, U.S. Olympic Curling Coach Phill Drobnick, Kim Stokes, and United Steel Workers member John Arbogast.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson joined a wave of Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders speaking out against Trump's appearance. She referenced his refusal to condemn white supremacist groups.
“We have a white supremacist in the White House who cares only about himself, who says he is about law and order, but I can guarantee you is coming into my community, disregarding the laws of health and safety for Minnesotans," Larson said in conference call Wednesday. “I am not about him. I am about this community. I'm about the state. I am about this country, and I am about Joe Biden.”
Trump's rally was his third major airport rally in the state since August. The attention has been part of a Trump effort to erase a long Democratic hold on the state after he came close to winning in 2016, trailing Hillary Clinton by 1.5 percentage points. No Republican nominee has won Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972.
“I don’t get that,” Trump said. “The Democrats have done such a lousy, pathetic job.”
Trump struck on notes, earning hearty booing and chants of “lock her up” at the mention of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis. He said “we ended it,” speaking of refugee resettlement in the U.S., which has capped resettlement at 18,000 in 2020.
Trump even mentioned education, not a favored topic for him. He said he’d bring school choice to every parent, and stop what he referred to as radicalization of American children by the left.
“We are launching a new pro-American lesson plan,” he said.
He talked about ending “‘endless wars,” attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, and his Nobel Prize nominations.
He said the U.S. would land a woman on the moon and put an astronaut on Mars. And shortly afterward, he left Duluth. He didn't say if he'd be back.