Jeri Anderson, a 65-year-old evangelist, geared up in a plastic face shield Sunday to knock on doors in Prior Lake, part of a Trump campaign team using a smartphone app to find the last of the election’s undecided voters, or just nudge a few supporters who might need a reminder to vote.
In north Minneapolis, DFL lawmakers and volunteers handed out free handwarmers, snacks and “vote” masks as a DJ played at a “Souls to the Polls” event a block away from an early voting site. Local, state and national Democratic leaders took the mic to urge residents in the DFL stronghold to vote.
With time running out, the campaigns for President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden scrambled over the weekend to scrounge up the last remaining votes in a 2020 battleground state that belies its modern history of favoring Democrats in presidential elections.
In an election year overshadowed by a global pandemic, prompting record numbers to vote early, the candidates made final pitches Friday that showed off starkly opposing views toward the virus. Biden held a drive-in style rally at the State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights. At the Rochester International Airport, Trump assailed the state’s top Democratic leaders for making him comply with a 250-person limit on public gatherings.
The former vice president has held a consistent lead in Minnesota polls. But Trump visited the state four times this year, making it a personal quest to flip a state he narrowly lost in 2016.
Biden, making his second campaign stop in the state, said he wouldn’t “take anything for granted.” Trump assured his supporters that “we’re going to win the state of Minnesota.”
Not in years has Minnesota received this much attention in presidential politics.
Also at stake Tuesday are down-ballot races for the U.S. Senate, Congress, and all 201 state legislative seats. Democrats are aiming for full control of Minnesota’s government while Republicans hope to hold a state Senate majority that has given them a check on DFL Gov. Tim Walz. Come January, Walz and the next Legislature face massive budget deficits and the once-per-decade redrawing of the state’s map of congressional and legislative districts.
“That raises the stakes of the elections — big time,” said Marty Seifert, a lobbyist and former House Republican leader.
But voters’ choices, and the ensuing ballot count, will play out under a legal cloud. A federal court ruling on Thursday left the GOP an opening to challenge mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day. That puts in doubt the state’s court-approved plan to count ballots arriving as late as Nov. 10, as long as they are postmarked by Tuesday.
Facing the prospect of postelection court fights, Walz and other state officials urged voters who hadn’t already mailed their ballots by the final weekend to take them to early drop-off sites or vote in person Tuesday.
“There’s just so much that’s crazy this year. It’s disconcerting,” said Elizabeth McMillan, a public school employee waiting in a long line Friday morning at an early voting site in Minneapolis’ Longfellow Park.
McMillan planned to mark her ballot for Biden. “I’m not sure I can articulate how disgusted I am by Mr. Trump,” McMillan said, feeling good but not overconfident about her candidate’s chances. “I don’t want to jinx it by saying I think he’s going to win,” she said.
Brooke Tyson, voting for Trump at an early voting site in Lakeville, said she likes the president’s handling of the economy and thinks Democrats have been too severe in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t like [Trump] as a person but I like his policies and I like what he’s done to get our country, the businesses up and running,” said Tyson, a substitute teacher.
Sierra Bailey and her daughter stopped for a snack while shopping at the Rosedale Center shopping mall Friday afternoon. Bailey said that she’s a bit nervous about Tuesday’s election. “It just seems like everyone’s on edge on both sides. Seems like there’s not really going to be a good outcome either way,” she said.
Politicians, activists and volunteers from both parties hustled through the weekend to get out the vote in novel ways, given the limits on gathering sizes and social distancing compelled by COVID-19.
Democrats, following Biden’s lead, relied more heavily throughout the campaign on virtual events, largely avoiding traditional rallies and in-person organizing. Republicans, campaigning against the governor’s emergency COVID mandates, took a very different approach, following Trump’s lead.
At a Trump Victory office in Anoka on Thursday night, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — Trump’s Minnesota campaign chairman — addressed a crowd largely decked out in “Make America Great Again” gear but few face masks. He recounted a recent 1:30 a.m. telephone call with Trump where, he said, he assured the president that he would carry Minnesota despite bad polling numbers here.
“The polls are lying,” Lindell told the crowd.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, once a competitor for the 2020 Democratic nomination, hosted an outdoor meet-and-greet with local legislative candidates the next day at a small park in Maple Grove. Masks were universal, chairs spaced 6 feet apart, and volunteers asked supporters to swing their arms in a circle to make sure they weren’t close enough to touch anyone.
“Don’t stop now,” Klobuchar told the Democrats. “Call everyone you know that hasn’t voted yet. Be annoying.”
Despite the pandemic, Minnesota, like much of the rest of the nation, seems on track to shatter voter turnout records. High emotions around the presidential contest appear to be the main driver.
“What are people talking about? They’re not talking about their local legislative races,” said Denise Cardinal, a veteran DFL operative. “This is going to be what is going to be driving decisions about races up and down the ballot.”
Minnesota Democrats hope a Biden win could help them flip control of the state Senate. But Gina Countryman, a GOP strategist, said a Biden win that relies heavily on turnout in Minneapolis and St. Paul leaves plenty of space for Republicans running in geographic areas where Trump is more popular.
“A conservative candidate aligned with Trump, there’s plenty of areas where you could still do really well,” she said.
Staff writer Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.