President Trump is set to appear in one of Minnesota's mining towns on Wednesday as part of an apparent effort to shore up support among energy sector workers in the historically Democratic state who might otherwise support former Vice President Joe Biden.
The historic town of Duluth, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and is situated within a congressional district that Trump won in 2016, could serve as a critical juncture for Trump to drive home his messaging about Democrats' energy policies.
Although Trump lost Minnesota in 2016, he was able to come within two percentage points or about 44,000 votes of his rival, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and turn red nineteen counties which previously went to former President Obama.
During Tuesday's presidential debate, Trump offered what appeared to be a preview of his campaign's messaging by claiming that Biden supports the Green New Deal -- an ambitious policy framework to combat the impacts of climate change and authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., that Republicans have tied to the party's more progressive elements.
Critics have argued that the Green New Deal, with its steep emissions reductions, would cost thousands of jobs, especially in the energy industry, and impose unrealistic costs on swing states like Minnesota. That could be problematic for Democrats as Minnesota voters have ranked jobs and the economy high on their list of priorities before the election.
The Democratic nominee said at the first debate that he does not support the Green New Deal, which his campaign website has called a "crucial framework."
Describing Biden as "out of touch," a group of Democratic mayors from Minnesota's iron range endorsed President Trump at the end of August.
"The radical environmental movement has dragged the Democratic Party so far to the left, they can no longer claim to be advocates of the working man," one of those mayors, Robert Vlaisavljevich of Eleveth, said during the Republican National Convention.
Those endorsements prompted backlash from a local labor union, District 11 of the United Steelworkers, which panned the idea that Trump revived the area's economy. Echoing Democrats, the group blamed economic losses on Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"President Trump refused to acknowledge the threat posed by the coronavirus, mobilize resources or show leadership in the face of the global pandemic," they said at the beginning of September. "As a result of the pandemic, almost half of the workers at the Iron Range's mines were laid off. USS Keetac is still idle and its 260 employees on layoff."
At the national level, heavy hitters in organized labor have backed Biden as well.
But recent media reports have indicated that portions of the historically Democratic voting bloc of labor unions are receptive to Trump's agenda. Chuck Knisell, international vice president of United Mine Workers of America District 2, told Politico that many of his members are shying away from Biden.
"The biggest argument that I have from our membership is that this isn’t a blue-collar, working-class Democratic Party that my dad or mom was in,” he said.
More generally, some workers have expressed support for the president. "Trump's done more for northern Minnesota than any other president in my lifetime,” a Minnesotan, who previously voted Democratic, told Minnesota Public Radio. Another man told E&E News that Democrats "left the Iron Range in the lurch."
The day before Trump's rally, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced more than $73 million in money for clean diesel and other projects in the state, the former of which the administration argues will help reduce emissions.
Still, Democrats have portrayed Trump's policies as adding fuel to what they say is an already-raging fire of climate change and its impacts. Minnesota's likely voters ranked that as fourth in their priorities, ahead of COVID-19 and the Supreme Court, in a poll taken just after late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.
Biden, who has called climate change an existential threat, maintains that his investments in a "Clean Energy Revolution" will create quality middle class jobs.
But Trump’s campaign told Fox News on Wednesday that Biden’s plans for the coronavirus would hurt workers in key industries like energy.
“President Trump’s 2016 victory sparked a realignment of blue collar workers who were tired of politicians like Joe Biden showing blind loyalty to union bosses while implementing policies that hurt hard working Americans,” Deputy Press Secretary Samantha Zager said.
“Throughout his nearly 50 years in politics, Biden has consistently put special interests ahead of workers – even promising to shut the economy back down if he were elected. President Trump is seeing strong support from union members and local leaders who know he’s the only candidate in the race that will protect their jobs and implement policies that help critical American trades like energy, hospitality, and law enforcement.”
During Tuesday’s debate, Biden hammered Trump on coronavirus figures, directly blaming him for deaths that have impacted communities across the country. “It is what it is because you are who you are,” he told Trump.
Democrats have generally blamed Trump for the coronavirus fallout, arguing that he could have done more to combat the virus. In a campaign ad for battleground states, Biden explicitly tied the virus to economic well-being. “To fix the economy, we need to get control over the virus,” he said.
According to FiveThirtyEight's average of polls, Minnesota is leaning towards Biden by roughly nine points.