Three days before Vice President Mike Pence's Oct. 26 campaign event at the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing, those representing the campaign signed an agreement with the airport agreeing to adhere to the state's emergency order rule limiting crowd sizes to 250, even when outdoors.

Once again, President Donald Trump and Pence's campaign breached such a contract.

The event drew a crowd of at least 650 people, a number that Hibbing police confirmed, as reported in the News Tribune's coverage of the event. A Washington Post article previously reported that the Republican presidential campaign signed a similar agreement in the days leading up to Trump's rally at the Duluth International Airport on Sept. 30. More than 3,000 people attended that event.

After receiving a draft of the venue rental agreement and consulting with the airport's attorneys, Executive Director of Range Regional Airport Barrett Ziemer wrote back to the campaign asking for the agreement to include that the campaign "implement the terms and provisions of the applicable governor's emergency orders, to strictly enforce those requirements and to hold the Airport Authority harmless from any and all claims deriving from breach of that obligation."

Ziemer also requested that the campaign pay the rental fee of $1,000 in advance, according to public records. The airport chose to request early payment after hearing that other communities had experienced a delay in payment or hadn't yet been paid.

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The campaign had wired the payment and updated the agreement to include that they would enforce the state's capacity requirement the same day Ziemer requested so on Friday, Oct. 23. Both parties signed the agreement that day, public records show.

After the event was already underway, Ziemer showed up to see that the crowd was over the agreed capacity.

In addition to the airport urging the campaign to follow the state crowd-size rule, the Minnesota Attorney General's Office held a call with the campaign to discuss its plans for maintaining the governor's orders.

"It was always planned to have it for 250 people," Ziemer said. "The last time I saw (the area) before the event everything was still set up for 250."

The airport was not responsible for allowing entrance to attendees. Portable fencing lined the area where event attendees gathered, meaning there was no free-roaming around the event. People were staffed to approve everyone's entrance, which included a security check and getting their temperature taken.

Supporters wait for Vice President Mike Pence at Range Regional Airport in Hibbing Monday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Supporters wait for Vice President Mike Pence at Range Regional Airport in Hibbing Monday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

"They were confined to that area," Ziemer said of attendees. "I think that's where the campaign failed because the Attorney General's Office said you can have more than 250. You just need different little pods."

Though, Ziemer wasn't sure that the state had communicated that discrepancy with the campaign.

"Technically we have a breach of contract but I don't see any other action going forward," he said.

That decision is up to the airport authority's board members. The next meeting is in November. However, Ziemer hasn't heard anyone from the board express preliminary interest in directing their attorney to pursue action. As of Thursday, he hadn't heard from council members from either the cities of Hibbing or Chisholm expressing concerns before or after the event was held.

Aside from Trump's Sept. 30 rally in Duluth, Trump's Sept. 18 Bemidji event and Pence's recent visit to Hibbing, other campaign events headlined by candidates on the presidential tickets have followed the state's crowd-size rule. The campaign has seen no formal repercussions from the state.

In response to previous questions about campaign crowd sizes, the Minnesota Department of Health has said that there's added caution when dealing with a political event, as it's part of the democratic process.

In mid-September, former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke to a crowd of fewer than 50 people in Hermantown.

When Pence campaigned in Duluth on Aug. 28, he spoke to about 250 attendees. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., held a rally in early September at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Vice President Mike Pence pumps a fist in the air as the crowd chants, “Four more years,” during a rally at Range Regional Airport in Hibbing on Oct. 26. (2020 file / News Tribune)
Vice President Mike Pence pumps a fist in the air as the crowd chants, “Four more years,” during a rally at Range Regional Airport in Hibbing on Oct. 26. (2020 file / News Tribune)

Volunteers with campaign staff were responsible for allowing people entrance at that event, recalled the DECC's interim executive director, Roger Reinert. However, DECC employees were also stationed at the door to make sure guidelines were being adhered to. After 239 event attendees had entered Reinert said they closed the door, turning others away.

"Our experience with the campaign was a good one," Reinert said. "I think it was really proactive communication."

That said, Trump Jr. draws far smaller crowds than the president himself.

Ziemer, with the Range Regional Airport, said that aside from the crowd growing larger than it should, he was impressed with the way those representing the campaign handled the event.

"None of us were responsible for that," he said of the 650 people in attendance. "It's unfortunate that it happened."

Those acting on behalf of the campaign reached out to the Hibbing airport on Thursday, Oct. 22, about holding the event.