Minnesota Democrats assailed their Republican counterparts Wednesday for campaign practices they say ignore COVID-19 safety precautions and put the larger public at risk as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state.
"We need to be crystal clear about what's happening here," said Ken Martin, chair of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, queuing up an online slide show that showed GOP leaders posing for group photos indoors in recent weeks without face masks or social distancing. "The Minnesota Republican Party's unsafe events could be spreading COVID-19 across our state, landing people in the hospital and even killing them."
The DFL criticism came as campaigns of Democratic candidates — including that of former Vice President Joe Biden — have relied almost exclusively on virtual or remote events. Republicans have returned to more traditional, in-person gatherings, such as the largely maskless White House rally for President Donald Trump on the last night of the Republican National Convention.
Minnesota Republicans counter that they are heeding proper health and safety protocols at their gatherings.
"All of the Republican events we hold, we provide masks, we encourage social distancing, we have plenty of sanitizer and we do post signs and information reminding people of the COVID safety precautions and of CDC guidelines," said GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, who attended the White House rally. "But it doesn't mean we're not going to come together."
The contrast was on display again Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidate for vice president, held a virtual, Minnesota-focused campaign event. Vice President Mike Pence was in Duluth last week for an in-person appearance.
Harris hit President Donald Trump for his own COVID response as a new school year gets underway.
"Donald Trump is offering no real plan to help schools reopen safely. And he's refusing to do the work of getting the virus under control. His administration is attempting to bully schools into reopening without the support they need," Harris told Minnesotans who tuned in.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Preya Samsundar in turn blasted Biden and Harris for not yet appearing personally in the state. "Minnesotans appreciate President Trump and Vice President Pence standing with them in-person," she said.
But Martin said politicking in person would only extend the pandemic and the economic damage it has wrought. He called out Carnahan personally for photos pulled from social media showing her posing without a mask in crowded indoor spaces at party events around the state throughout August.
Republicans, including U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis and congressional candidates Tyler Kistner and Michelle Fischbach, also were shown maskless in some of the photos collected by the DFL. Many of the photos also show little or no social distancing.
"Imagine if everyone in Minnesota was behaving like this. We'd be a COVID-19 hot spot," Martin said. He noted that Dr. Deborah Birx, a top White House adviser on the pandemic, warned Minnesotans in a visit last weekend to work on getting infection rates down.
"We're moving in the wrong direction," Martin said.
Carnahan said she knows of no cases of COVID transmission in Minnesota related to Republican Party gatherings. She said she personally has had three negative COVID tests, adding that Minnesota GOP staffers have been required to get regular COVID tests.
Carnahan said she regularly wears a mask on airplanes, at airports, shopping and for dentist visits. She mentioned having a 96-year-old grandfather and a mother with health conditions as reasons that "I practice safety and precautions."
"But when I show up at events and I'm giving speeches or talking in front of groups of people ... I can take my mask off," Carnahan said. "I remove my mask oftentimes to take photos with people."
Carnahan sought to turn the public safety argument on Democrats on Wednesday, suggesting they are to blame for outbreaks of civil unrest in Minneapolis and other cities across the country this summer.
"Minneapolis cannot sustain another night, or weekend, or week of riots and looting. Our businesses have been harmed too much and our families are scared at what's to come," Carnahan said. Trump, she added, "bears no blame for the anarchy."
Martin dismissed the GOP charge as a distraction. "You didn't see me out there leading riots or looting or engaging in the civil unrest that's happening," he said.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.