DULUTH – Vice President Mike Pence visited Minnesota on Friday, bringing many of the same messages from the Republican National Convention to the politically divided region.
"We're going to make Minnesota more prosperous than ever before," Pence told a crowd of a few hundred outside a port warehouse in Duluth. "And we're going to make Minnesota safer than ever before."
As part of a two-state campaign swing, the vice president delivered a 50-minute speech that touched on religious freedom, tax cuts, gun rights and military spending. As at the convention, he emphasized the Trump administration's coronavirus response and law-and-order mantra.
But the focus of the event was written on large signs hung on the surrounding shipping containers: "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!"
"Joe Biden wants to bury our economy under an avalanche of red tape," Pence said, adding: "I don't have to tell you here in Minnesota, Joe Biden and Barack Obama tried their best to shut down mining in the Iron Range."
DFL Chairman Ken Martin issued a statement before the rally, calling the Trump administration "a complete disaster for Minnesota families — from its attacks on Social Security to trade wars that hurt our farmers to attempted rollbacks of the [Affordable Care Act] that would take away people's health insurance."
Martin said President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous and that "Minnesota families are still dealing with the fallout," with more than 70,000 Minnesotans infected by the virus, and tens of thousands suddenly out of work.
A mayor from the northeastern Minnesota region, Larry Cuffe Jr. of Virginia, joined the vice president to read a letter from him and other local leaders — from Chisholm, Eveleth, Two Harbors, Babbitt and Ely — endorsing Trump.
"Like many in our region, we have voted for Democrats over many decades," Cuffe read. "Today, we don't recognize the Democratic Party. It has been moved so far to the left it can no longer claim to be advocates of the working class."
Minnesota has become a prize eyed by Trump after he lost the state by 33,000 votes in 2016. Pence's visit came two weeks after the president went to Mankato to talk to farmers and small-business owners.
While Duluth itself remains a DFL bastion, the geographically large Eighth Congressional District that for decades sent Democrats to Congress has seen a Republican shift, with GOP U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber winning the seat in 2018.
Pence said he started in politics as the youth Democratic Party coordinator for his Indiana county in 1975. He said his grandfather, a lifelong Democrat who worked as a bus driver in Chicago, wouldn't recognize the party today. Many in the crowd may have similar stories, he said, trying to appeal across the partisan divide.
"Join us," he urged.
Nancy McReady wore a shirt that said: "We support mining and clean water. We CAN have both."
"And I just took off my 'recovering Democrat' button," said the longtime Ely resident, who said she became a Republican more than two decades ago after realizing her former party "kept taking more and more away."
McReady's husband retired from the mining industry after 40 years. Their house sits on a Boundary Waters lake.
"If you think I'm going to let it get polluted, you're crazy," she said. "But we need jobs. Our towns are dying. Our storefronts our closed. We need a resurgence of young people back into our community."
Scott Dane, an Iron Range logger who spoke at the Republican convention Wednesday, said Trump's work on tariffs and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has sparked needed change for the timber industry.
Before Pence arrived, about 100 protesters gathered in front of Duluth City Hall. Speakers focused on protecting the Postal Service and combating police violence.
Stauber's opponent, Quinn Nystrom, said her campaign is gaining momentum from the division the administration is bringing to the region. Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, visited Duluth Pack, a local outdoor equipment store, last month.
Pence briefly mentioned two of the biggest issues facing the state and country. "We are on track to have the world's first coronavirus vaccine before the end of this year," Pence said, lauding Minnesota's "great health care tradition."
He also addressed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police: "There's no excuse for what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, and justice will be served. But there's also no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that has followed."
Staff writer Brooks Johnson contributed to this report.