Duluth has emerged as a rather unlikely battleground city in the 2020 presidential election, featuring regular candidate and surrogate stops as both campaigns seek to capture Minnesota, one of the most narrowly divided states four years ago.
While the attention has arguably helped raise the city's profile nationally, it's come with at least one negative side effect: an unexpected tab that will be picked up by local taxpayers.
As a result of five high-profile visits since July, Duluth has incurred $115,615 in expenses, mostly related to police, fire and other city staff work hours, according to financial data provided by the city.
President Donald Trump held a reelection rally at the Duluth International Airport on Sept. 30, and Democratic nominee Joe Biden was in the city Sept. 18. Vice President Mike Pence came to town Aug. 28, and two Trump children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., paid visits July 27 and Sept. 9, respectively.
The candidates and other dignitaries travel with their own security detail, but local communities are often left to deal with the expenses stemming from placing additional officers at and around the events, as well as shutting down roads for motorcades and monitoring protests.
"There's a lot of planning that goes into these large events," city spokesperson Kate Van Daele said. "The end goal is just to make sure that they're carried out successfully, that people have a good time and that everyone is safe."
About $38,323 of the total cost should be reimbursed under a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant known as Operation Stonegarden, Van Daele said, leaving Duluth on the hook for $77,292.
The city has a $45,000 annual allocation that can be used for police overtime, typically for events such as Grandma's Marathon, the Duluth Airshow and the Festival of Sail. But that money remained available, as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented major events from being held this year.
The $7,732 in overtime incurred by fire and public works and utilities crews is not eligible to be reimbursed under the grant.
Pence's visit was by far the costliest, racking up $51,749 in pre-reimbursement expenses for the city — something Van Daele attributed to duration and logistics of the stop, which involved a rally at the port and private meetings.
Donald Trump Jr.'s speech at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center was at the low end, totaling just $5,226. His sister's stop at at Duluth Pack, accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, ran $6,099.
The president's speech at the airport came in at $40,142, while Biden's visit came in at just $12,398 — though it did not include any publicly advertised events and was held partially in Hermantown.
Van Daele said the city doesn't have plans to attempt to recoup the expenses from the campaigns, citing a lack of success in past efforts. She said the city does budget for police and fire overtime annually, but the flurry of political activity may necessitate the shuffling of some city expenses to maintain a budget.
Despite the expenses, Van Daele said it's beneficial for Duluth to have a place in the spotlight.
"I don't know many other cities that have had both presidential candidates come to their community," she said. "So Duluth continues to be a city that matters ... and hopefully the business community and our city benefits from having those events here."