Democrat Joe Biden arrives in Duluth to battle President Donald Trump for Minnesota’s middle-class voters

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden landed Friday in Minnesota for the first of dueling campaign events with President Donald Trump over who should be trusted during the next four years to spur the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

After touring the Jerry Alander Carpenter Training Center in Hermantown, Biden called again for a $15 per hour minimum wage. He vowed to strengthen “buy American” requirements for federal contracting.

Biden has proposed to spend $400 billion during his first term to buy American products. He proposed to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, and to retrofit 4 million buildings and 2 million homes to make them more energy efficient, which he said would create millions of jobs.

Biden said he would pay for his plan by repealing the Trump tax cut for individuals earning more than $400,000 per year and raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. In contrast, Trump proposed to reduce the capital-gains tax rate on investments to 15%, which Biden said would be lower than the rate on working wages.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden visits the Jerry Alander Carpenter Training Center in Hermantown, Minnesota, on Sept. 18, 2020.

“It’s time to reward hard work in America, not wealth,” Biden said.

Trump has won support across the northeast region of the state, despite the Iron Range being a traditional Democratic stronghold of unions for mining, steelworkers and shipping.

Trump, who is scheduled to speak in Bimidji at 7 p.m. EDT, and Biden will each be appealing to the same middle-class voters about who is more trustworthy to spur manufacturing and create jobs.

The visits coincide with the first day of Minnesota’s early voting period – either in person or absentee – for the Nov. 3 election. Trump is vying to win a state Democrats have carried reliably since 1972 and therefore isn’t routinely mentioned among crucial swing states like neighboring Wisconsin, Michigan or Florida.

Polls suggest a comfortable Biden lead in Minnesota, by an average of 8.8 percentage points through Sept. 18, according to tracking site FiveThirtyEight.com. While Trump won support in the Iron Range in 2016, the bulk of the state’s population is more urban and favors Democrats. But the Trump campaign says its internal polling portrays a tighter race.

In a play for urban voters, the Trump campaign unveiled a local television ad Friday for Minnesota and Michigan that criticizes Biden for proposing to raise the number of refugees welcomed to the country from Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Minnesota had about 43,000 residents who were born in Somalia by 2018, according to census estimates, which occasionally sparks tensions in the Twin Cities.

Malik Stewart, a volunteer for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in the St. Cloud area, said before the arrival of the candidates that he hoped that Trump wouldn’t stir up anti-Somali sentiment while visiting.

“That’s what I don’t want to see, but what I expect to see,” Stewart said.

Another urban issue for the the Twin Cities deals with racial-justice protests. Minnesota has been the epicenter of nationwide racial justice protests, after the death May 25 of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. But political experts said the issue hasn’t appeared to influence presidential politics in the state.

Cynthia Rugeley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said she sees no evidence that Floyd’s death or the protests are shifting the presidential race in the state.

“I’m not sure it has changed any minds,” she said. “It does seem to have hardened people’s opinions on the issues.”

Jerry Hemstad waves a flag in support of President Donald Trump near the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox on Sept. 18, 2020 in Bemidji, Minnesota. Bemidji, where Trump will speak, is Bunyan's fictional home. Trump and challenger, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, are each campaigning in Minnesota today.

Trump has called himself the law-and-order candidate, supporting police amid concerns about public safety. But Biden has accused Trump of stoking racial division rather than seeking to heal wounds from protests ranging from Portland, Oregon, to Atlanta, Georgia.

“I think it would be good to hear a positive vision for the future, specific policies to address the racial tensions in particular,” Stewart said.

During Trump’s previous visits to Minnesota, the president promoted his tariffs on Chinese steel to bolster local mining, his renegotiation of the trade deal with Canada for dairy farmers and funding for the Soo Locks shipping channel that is critical to trade on the Great Lakes.

When Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Duluth on Aug. 28, six mayors from traditional Democratic strongholds endorsed the GOP ticket and said “lifelong politicians like Joe Biden are out of touch with the working class.” Three more Iron Range mayors endorsed the ticket Friday, saying the Obama administration when Biden was vice president was soft on China as mines shut down.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tours Carpenter Training Center in Hermantown, Minnesota, on Sept. 18, 2020.

Biden has focused on his support among steelworkers and other unions, with a proposal to spur domestic manufacturing through federal spending. He released a statement Wednesday supporting the Iron Range and promoting endorsements by unions including the United Steelworkers and AFL-CIO.

He said steel shipments were down 25% last year under Trump’s administration, idling mining operations and putting thousands of people out of work, while China produced the largest monthly volume of crude steel on record in July.

Biden acknowledged a chip on his shoulder at having the affluent look down him without an Ivy League degree. But he promoted the region’s union workers who built things with their hands rather than deriving income from investing in the stock market.

“I believe this campaign is between Scranton and Park Avenue,” Biden said, repeated a theme from his town hall Thursday on CNN. “Like a lot of you, I spent a lot of my life with guys like Donald Trump looking down on me.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a former Democratic primary rival of Biden, said her grandfather was a miner whose job was made safer by miners. She said she is sick and tired hearing Trump say he is making the country safer while she has to visit her 92-year-old father in assisted living through glass because he’s suffering from COVID-19.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to see him again,” Klobuchar said. “That’s not safe.”

But she said Biden would work to curb the virus and revive the economy.

“We need someone to have our back,” Klobuchar said.

Biden lamented the job losses under the pandemic, as the American death total nears 200,000 and is projected to double by the end of the year.

“I can’t think of any president who has ever acted, in my view, so selfishly for his own reelection instead of his sworn obligation to protect and defend the American people,” Biden said.

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