Hibbing, Minn. – Despite unprecedented attention from the president’s campaign this year, Iron Range voters were not swayed.
St. Louis County as a whole backed Joe Biden by a 16-point margin. The county went to Hillary Clinton by a 12-point margin in 2016.
On the Iron Range — a frequent topic of President Donald Trump’s speeches in his Minnesota visits this year — Republicans continued to seek out longtime DFL voters and split a formerly dependable bloc of labor votes. Yet several Range cities whose mayors endorsed Trump — like Chisholm, Eveleth and Virginia — sent more votes to Biden than Trump on Tuesday night.
In Hibbing, where voters narrowly backed Trump in 2016, a boost in turnout gave the president a few hundred more votes than Biden and put DFL Rep. Julie Sandstede 47 votes behind her Republican rival, Rob Farnsworth.
The presidential race was close in other areas on the Range, where labor unions and the DFL dominated politics for decades, until a recent schism between environmentalists and unions.
“The whole dynamic of the party has changed,” said Marc Sterle, a Hibbing native who grew up in a household that revered Democrats like President John F. Kennedy. “My parents would not vote for the Democratic Party now.”
Sterle, 64, manages a manufacturing company and cast his ballot for Trump on Tuesday, just as he did in 2016.
“You don’t have to love the guy,” Sterle said. “But you have to appreciate what he’s accomplished in his first four years.”
The president visited Bemidji and Duluth in recent months, and Vice President Mike Pence stopped in Hibbing last week. Trump had made it a mission to send Minnesota’s electoral college votes to a Republican for the first time since 1972, and the Iron Range would have been the jewel in that crown.
Former Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Duluth and mingled with crowds in Canal Park the same day Trump was on stage at a crowded rally in Bemidji.
The candidates brought promises of an economic recovery for a region especially hammered with job losses amid the pandemic. Several taconite mines closed this summer, laying off about 1,750 people, and only recently did they reopen. One mine, Keetac, remains indefinitely idled, and northeastern Minnesota’s labor force shrank to its smallest level in decades this fall.
Still, many voters said they were happy with Trump’s steel tariffs and support for the state’s proposed copper-nickel mines.
“It’s not that we want to stay the same around here,” said Ben Erickson, 33, a miner from Hibbing who voted for Trump. “We want to grow, too. Mining opens up other opportunities.”
Angela Leino said she voted for Biden after backing Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016.
“I wasn’t even going to vote for either of them this year, but I feel like our country is heading in a direction of chaos,” said the 34-year-old from Hibbing. “I usually stay away from the two major parties. But I feel like the last election I kind of messed up.”
Even as nearly half of all 131,653 registered voters in St. Louis County requested an absentee ballot, polls were as busy or even busier than in past presidential elections.
In Chisholm, a town of nearly 5,000, a line of voters wrapped around the sports arena about noon on the unseasonably warm Election Day. About 53% of Chisholm voters picked Biden, compared to 43% for Trump, similar to 2016 results.
In Duluth, where voters overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden’s support was widespread. All 34 of the city’s precincts backed the winner of the state’s 10 electoral votes, as did Hermantown’s three precincts.
“Let’s just get rid of Trump,” said Joe Abbott after voting at the Gary New Duluth Rec Center, where a steady stream of voters moved through a short line Tuesday morning.
DFL candidate Jen McEwen won the state Senate seat that covers Duluth after beating Sen. Erik Simonson in the DFL primary this year. Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber of Hermantown topped opponent Quinn Nystrom, though without much support in the Duluth area. Nystrom won 49% of St. Louis County votes over Stauber’s 45% in the most heavily populated county in the sprawling Eighth Congressional District.
Among first-time voters at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Biden support came with an equal dose of anti-Trump sentiment.
“He claims he has done more for Black people since Lincoln, and I would beg to differ,” said Kylie Butler, who is Black. She said Trump is racist and voting for Biden was “the lesser of two evils.”