In Duluth, Trump warns his followers that Biden would turn Minnesota “into a refugee camp”

President Donald Trump addresses supporters in Duluth at a campaign rally on Sep. 30, 2020. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

DULUTH —  President Donald Trump returned for the second time to northern Minnesota since voting began in the state, holding a campaign rally at an airport hangar here where thousands gathered to see the president after a widely panned presidential debate performance. 

With an estimated crowd of 3,000, many of whom waited for hours in the cold and light rain, Trump appeared relatively subdued and spoke for roughly 50 minutes, far less than his usual movie-length speaking time. He applauded himself for “reopening” the Iron Range, even though many of the mines that briefly closed during a 2015 downturn had reopened before he was in office.

Trump, who is stumping hard to win the state, peppered his speech with pleas and even a joking promise to never come back to the state again should he not prevail, encouraging his Minnesota supporters to turn out in droves. 

“You better vote for me Minnesota, really, I mean, honestly,” Trump said. 

In 2016, Trump came closer than any Republican since the late President Ronald Reagan to winning Minnesota, coming up just 44,000 votes short. He seems to think his continued presence here — and a heavy dose of anti-immigrant rhetoric — can put him over the top. 

“Another massive issue for Minnesota is … Joe Biden’s plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees,” Trump said, criticizing a Biden pledge to increase the number of refugees admitted into the country. “Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp.”

State Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, said Trump reopened the old wound of his 2016 election eve visit, when he referred to Minnesota’s Somali-American population as a “disaster.” 

“This is a nation of immigrants, and this is not the way we deal with people who have gone through struggle and challenges in their lives,” Noor said. “I believe many people, immigrants and refugees, have contributed greatly to this country. I’m disappointed.” 

Trump quickly ran through a number of topics, at times litigating his debate performance, saying he was debating both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. He also acknowledged his shaky standing with women; current polls show him trailing badly to Biden among women. 

“Then they say, women in the suburbs don’t like President Trump,” he said, reminding supporters how 2016 exit polls showed him winning a majority of white women. (A 2018 study by Pew Research, however, showed he won only a plurality of women.)

Trump sought to warn suburban voters, raising the hyperbolic specter of a Biden presidency that he said would threaten the post-war American dream of home, car and yard. 

“(Biden) wants to destroy those suburbs by abolishing single-family zoning,” Trump said. 

(During Tuesday’s debate, Biden mocked Trump over this: “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.) 

Friends and Trump supporters Jill Kelly, 37, of Burnsville, and Kelly Williams, 36, of Grand Rapids, traveled to Duluth for a campaign rally, President Donald Trump’s first after his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Trump still inspires the support of suburban women like Jill Kelly, 37, from Burnsville and Kelly Williams, 36, who both traveled to Duluth for their first Trump rally.

They were excited to see Trump. “We’re here to have a good time in support of the Trumpinator,” Kelly said, breaking out into a loud whoop-whoop.

Kelly and Williams acknowledged they were both eager to see Trump deliver a more presidential performance in Duluth after his debate with Biden. 

“I did watch the debate last night, and I’m a big Trump supporter, but I was disappointed in both parties. I felt that it was a (expletive) show between both parties,” Williams said. “I personally wanted to see Trump come above what everybody expected of him.” 

She criticized Biden’s performance, particularly his reluctance to give an answer to a question about expanding the Supreme Court. “Although he was trying to talk to the American people directly, he wasn’t given any of the American people an answer,” Williams said. 

They both expressed reservations about mail-in voting, saying they planned to vote in person on Election Day. “I do not think we should be voting via mail,” Wiliams said. 

“Because it is fraud!” Kelly interjected, adding that she was convinced that “ballot harvesting” would skew election results.

For months, Trump has been raising doubts about the integrity of mail ballots, even though they’ve been used for decades in Republican and Democratic states alike, including in rural Minnesota. 

The Trump campaign has been working to appeal to voters in rural Minnesota. Trump last visited Bemidji, and his daughter and senior advisor, Ivanka Trump, recently visited Winona in southeast Minnesota. Eric Trump, meanwhile, is expected to be in Becker on Thursday.

Trump’s Wednesday swing through Minnesota included a GOP fundraiser in Shorewood at the home of Cambria CEO and president Marty Davis. He then flew to Duluth on Air Force One, and he was joined by members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer and Jim Hagedorn.

Trump ruminated over how close he came to winning in 2016. “We almost won it,” he said. “I had a choice: do I do Michigan, which we won? I should have done them both. One more speech; we lost by very little.”

Trump, currently trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in polls both nationally and in Minnesota, would be the first Republican to carry the state since Richard Nixon. 

In a Star Tribune/MPR News/Kare 11 poll released Saturday, Biden leads Trump by 6 points among likely Minnesota voters. 

In contrast to his skeletal 2016 Minnesota campaign operation, the Trump team is spending considerable time and money trying to persuade Minnesotans to re-elect the president. 

Minnesotans have already begun voting. As of Sep. 25, more than 1.2 million absentee ballots have been requested, and 75,511 ballots have been accepted, according to Secretary of State Steve Simon. In St. Louis County, more than 38,000 ballots have been requested; 394 have been accepted. 

The surge in absentee ballot requests comes as many Minnesotans have chosen to vote by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ahead of Trump’s visit to Duluth, Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders and officials criticized Trump, whose personal income taxes have faced renewed scrutiny following recent New York Times investigation found he paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. He also faced another round of attacks over sowing racial divisions by declining to condemn the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group, during the Tuesday debate. 

DFL Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, whose brother died after contracting COVID-19 earlier this year, criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic. 

“[Trump] called folks who passed away — over 200,000 folks in this country — ‘nobodies.’ ’ My brother Ron wasn’t a nobody,” Flanagan said. 

Many attendees at Trump’s Duluth rally, which was held outdoors, wore masks. Members of the press who attended had their temperatures checked and were offered hand sanitizer.

Trump heralded what he’s done for northeastern Minnesota, pointing out that his administration helped pave the way for potential mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters. 

(Environmentalists and a majority of Minnesotans, according to polls, say mining near the Boundary Waters is too great a risk given the relatively small number of jobs that would result.) 

“What we have done for Minnesota,” he said, “I lose Minnesota, I’m never coming back, I don’t care. I’m never coming back!”

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.