HIBBING — After an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred among his top aides, Vice President Mike Pence appeared at Range Regional Airport to a gathering of more than 650 supporters Monday.
The vice president arrived to a 25-degree temperature and light snow. Hibbing police confirmed the crowd size.
Pence has joined President Donald Trump in a campaign sprint with events around the country as Election Day looms a week away. Over the weekend, five aides or advisers to Pence were reported to have COVID-19.
Pence wasn't deterred, making his second trip to Northeastern Minnesota in 59 days as the GOP ticket pressed to inspire a strong turnout in the region.
Pence, wearing a blue tie and black overcoat, opened by saying: "To all my fellow hearty Minnesotans from near and far, it is great to be back in the North Star State. ... It's clear to me, the Iron Range is Trump country."
While the crowd was smaller than one of Trump's rallies, which have drawn thousands, it marked another breach of Minnesota's health guidelines. The state has continued to urge gatherings remain at no more than 250 people.
"We're outside," Abby Dietrich, 39, of Hibbing said.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported how the Trump campaign flooded its Duluth airport rally with up to 3,000 supporters in October after agreeing to adhere with health guidelines meant to limit crowds and control the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Tim Walz on Monday said the state had reached out to the Trump campaign to advise them of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation guidelines and was frustrated to hear that attendees didn’t seem to be following a 250-person cap, social distancing guidance or wearing face masks.
The DFL governor said he wouldn’t pursue punitive measures over the violations.
“These large rallies that are unmasked and elected officials going to them, I just have to be candid, they are incredibly unhelpful. If you’re coming to Minnesota to seek votes, bring us testing today, bring us PPE, bring us a partnership to get a handle on this,” Walz told reporters on a call with state health officials.
Jennifer Carnahan, GOP chairwoman, said it wasn't that the party was ignoring state health guidelines.
"People are just so energized and excited to see a sitting president and vice president when they come to our state, which they have several times," Carnahan said.
Supporters' temperatures were monitored for fever on their way in by campaign staffers, and an announcement was made expecting people to wear face masks. Many did, some not always properly over their noses. Social distancing was not practiced as the crowd grew.
Pence said little about coronavirus and said nothing about the cases in his office, repeating that Trump saved lives by restricting travel from China.
"We reinvented testing," he said. "We are doing more testing than any country in the world by far."
Pence talked about choices a few times, making distinctions between the Trump ticket and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.
"We have a choice to make," he said. "It’s a choice between a Trump recovery and a Biden depression."
He continued later: "I think the choice in this election is whether America remains America."
Pence got muffled applause several times from a bundled-up crowd, most wearing gloves and mittens.
"It's an uplifting experience," Sarah Day, 34, of Chisholm, said, adding that she liked being around people with conservative values.
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, spoke prior to the vice president's arrival, appealing to the Range crowd by saying: "Mining dominance in this world — the Iron Range is going to do that."
Pence capitalized on an eager Range crowd.
"Our bridges and skyscrapers soar because of iron that comes out of the Iron Range," he said.
He falsely accused Biden of shutting down mining on the Iron Range. The Obama administration started putting tariffs on Chinese steel in 2016 after several mines were temporarily shuttered. Trump continued with further tariffs after most mines reopened before the end of Obama's presidency.
Obama later blocked mining rights outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
"Truth is, when Joe Biden was vice president he withdrew the rights to one of largest copper-nickel reserves right here in northern Minnesota," Pence said.
Pence mentioned the confirmation of conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"As vice president, I'm president of the Senate and when we’re done, I'm going to head back to Washington, D.C., just in case they need my vote," he said of the night's confirmation hearing.
Pence joined another vice president, Biden, to have campaigned in Hibbing in recent years. Governing with President Barack Obama, Biden appeared at the local community college in 2014 in support of U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan's reelection bid to the 8th Congressional District. Biden's message then was aimed at the middle-class and blue-collar workers: "We need to stand up and holler for what we are for — stand up for what we believe and let the people choose."
Throughout the election, the GOP ticket has cast Biden as too progressive.
Instead Pence praised Trump for his conservative bona fides, calling him a job creator and the most pro-life president in history.
"I think President Trump is the greatest champion of faith to ever sit in the oval office,” Pence said to even more muffled applause.
Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 3:56 p.m. Oct. 26 with additional details from the rally and a quote from Gov. Tim Walz. It was originally posted at 2:24 p.m. Oct. 26.