President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will hold competing Minnesota rallies Friday as the race for the White House intensifies in what has become a potential battleground state in Tuesday’s election.
Biden’s campaign announced Thursday that he would hold a drive-in car rally in St. Paul at 3:45 p.m., just ahead of a previously scheduled Trump rally at 5 p.m. in the Rochester area.
The Biden event seemed designed to limit crowding and close personal contact out of concern for the pandemic. The details of Trump’s Rochester-area rally shifted Thursday after state officials asked the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee to produce a COVID-19 preparedness plan.
Trump’s event was originally planned at Rochester International Airport, then moved to McNeilus Steel, a private company in nearby Dodge Center, apparently in order to accommodate a larger crowd. The company started setting up for the event and a McNeilus executive notified employees Thursday morning of the rally and said there could be 25,000 people attending.
Gov. Tim Walz’s pandemic regulations restrict gatherings in the state to 250 people.
By Thursday afternoon, it appeared there was going to be yet another change of venue for the Trump event. Shortly after 7 p.m. a spokeswoman for the city of Rochester said the RNC had notified city officials that the rally would be held at the Rochester airport after all, and that it would be invite-only and limited to 250 people.
Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement that state officials asked the RNC for a COVID-19 preparedness plan after a group call on Wednesday, but did not get a response. The attorney general asked the Trump campaign, RNC and McNeilus Steel for another plan after the event was moved, he said, but again did not hear back.
Minnesota GOP Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan tweeted Thursday that Ellison and Walz are “abusing the power of their offices to block us from seeing our President!”
“We did not cancel this event: indeed, we have no authority to cancel events and have never canceled an event,” Ellison said in a statement Thursday afternoon after word spread that McNeilus would not be hosting the rally.
The Rochester area has seen an increase in COVID-19 infections, and Rochester city spokeswoman Jenna Bowman urged people attending the president’s rally to wear masks, remain socially distant, wash their hands and not attend if they are feeling ill.
A specific location and other details about the Biden campaign’s drive-in rally also were not released on Thursday. His campaign has held several car rallies in states such as Ohio and Florida in recent weeks, with supporters in their cars parked in front of a large stage, often in front of a large projector screen relaying a live feed.
The dueling campaign stops come as Biden has held a consistent lead in statewide polls of likely voters, particularly in large urban areas and the suburbs. Trump, seeking a late comeback in a state he narrowly lost in 2016, has focused much of his attention on greater Minnesota, particularly the Iron Range.
Several Trump campaign surrogates are also set to visit the state through the weekend. The president’s daughter Tiffany Trump is hosting a “Breakfast with Tiffany” event in Woodbury on Saturday morning, and the campaign is also throwing a “Trump Pride” event on Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis that will feature Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence under Trump.
The Friday night rally will be Trump’s fourth campaign visit to the state this year, following previous rallies in Mankato, Bemidji and Duluth.
The Twin Cities stop will be Biden’s second visit to the state since winning the Democratic nomination in August. The former vice president toured a labor union training center outside Duluth and greeted voters in the city’s Canal Park district on the first day of early voting in mid-September.
Friday will also be the second time both candidates will be in Minnesota on the same day, with Biden’s Duluth visit coinciding with Trump’s rally in Bemidji.
Biden is also campaigning in Wisconsin and Iowa on Friday, and Trump is stopping in Wisconsin and Michigan — underscoring the strategic importance of the politically purple Upper Midwest as both candidates try to assemble 270 electoral votes.
Trump carried Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa in 2016 but lost Minnesota by fewer than 45,000 votes. Biden holds leads in polls of all four of those states, according to RealClearPolitics averages.
The Trump campaign started pushing resources into Minnesota early in the presidential cycle, building out a campaign infrastructure the likes of which Minnesota Republicans said they have not seen here for years, if ever. The Biden campaign was slower to invest in Minnesota as he worked to lock up the Democratic nomination, but recent months have seen his campaign making up lost ground. Both campaigns have also invested heavily in TV advertising in Minnesota.