A cast of Iron Range mayors didn’t upstage Vice President Mike Pence in Duluth on Friday, but a couple of them did take the stage with him — signaling their support for the Trump-Pence ticket in the most dramatic moment in a day heavy with conservative values.
“There’s many people in northern Minnesota who truly are Republicans,” Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson said, describing a blurring of what had once been solid Democrat country. “They truly understand what’s going on.”
Swanson joined five other Range mayors in timing their Trump endorsement with Pence’s arrival at the Clure Public Marine Terminal.
“I’m seeing people come our way every single day,” Pence told a crowd of more than 250 supporters, who provided Pence with a series of standing ovations throughout a 50-minute address.
The Trump-Pence ticket is vying for reelection to the presidency against Democrat Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris on Nov. 3.
Playing to the Iron Range crowd, Pence said, “The president stood up to Chinese steel dumping,” a sentiment later echoed by Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe.
In a fact check, it’s notable both men failed to acknowledge how President Barack Obama was the first to go after Chinese steel dumping, sending his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to Virginia in 2015 to address the matter. During what was a depressed time for the mines, the Obama-led effort put high tariffs on Chinese steel products and signaled a turnaround on the Iron Range.
“Joe Biden did nothing to help the working class,” Cuffe said in error, while proclaiming himself a former Democrat in support of Trump.
Former Duluth Mayor Gary Doty was also pointed out of the crowd by Pence, for being another Democrat who has swung in favor of Trump.
Afterward, Doty explained he was a Democratic-Farmer-Labor office-holder in the state Legislature in the 1970s, but held a series of nonpartisan offices after that. He’s always prided himself on being independent, he said.
“I come from a DFL family and many of them still are,” Doty said. “My dad was the head of the Teamsters and the things he fought for — jobs, benefits and working men and women — the Democratic party has lost that. They’ve gone so far left I can’t support the Democratic ticket this year.”
Pence didn’t have to work hard to win the red, white and blue crowd, including Pat Hanson, 72, of Duluth, who wore red to match Pence’s tie.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “Especially the support he received from the Iron Range mayors. I think Minnesota may very well go red.”
Since coming within 1.5 percentage points of winning the state in 2016, Trump and Pence have targeted Minnesota with repeated visits, eager to flip it red for the first time since Richard Nixon in 1972.
Kevin Arenz, 58, and Chris Klein, 37, rode motorcycles to the event from the Twin Cities, riding for the Boots on the Ground Bikers for Trump.
"I don't consider him a politician," Arenz, of Savage, Minnesota, said of Trump. "He's the president of the United States and the president of the world. What he's doing by stopping endless wars wouldn't have happened without him."
"I don't care what comes out of his mouth," Klein, of Richfield, Minnesota, said of Trump. "I care that he has balls.”
Regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there were hardly any masks worn and social distancing was not adhered to at the event.
Pence acknowledged the more than 1,800 Minnesotans dead to coronavirus, saying they were in his prayers.
“We are on track to have the world’s first coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year,” Pence said, making a claim some doubt is possible.
Pence also banged the drum for law enforcement, while pointing to retired Duluth police officer and 8th District Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, in the audience.
“Your president and vice president know what Pete knows — that most people who serve in law enforcement are the best people,” Pence said. “There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and justice will be served. There’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that followed.”
In addition to Cuffe and Swanson, the Iron Range mayors who announced their endorsement of the Trump ticket included John Champa of Chisholm, Chuck Novak of Ely, Robert Vlaisavljevich of Eveleth, and Andrea Zupancich of Babbitt.
Gov. Tim Walz stood up for Biden after the Pence event, telling the News Tribune there will also be several local officials who support the Biden-Harris ticket. Walz asked Minnesotans to consider whether they’ve seen an improvement in their quality of life since Trump took office.
“I would ask them if they’re better off in Chisholm than they were three-and-a-half years ago, if they’re better off in Virginia than three-and-a-half years ago, and if they want to continue to live in a country where you can’t even go to Thanksgiving dinner with your own family because politics makes it so toxic,” Walz said.
Three Black Lives Matter protesters were asked to leave the Pence event by authorities claiming they were on private property. The protesters left quietly.
“We were here to be seen and to say we don’t support Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” Malachy Koons, 21, of Duluth, said, blaming their rhetoric for inflaming violence in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin and Minneapolis.
Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.