MANKATO, Minn. — President Donald Trump made campaign stops in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Monday, Aug. 17, in an attempt to woo Midwestern voters into supporting his re-election bid with promises for a thriving economy and job growth in a second term.

Trump's visits in Mankato, Minn., and Oshkosh, Wis., landed on the kickoff day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, signaling the president's intentions to counter-program his opposition's week-long spectacle. Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to accept the Democratic Party's nomination this week.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are viewed as key swing states that could deliver to the president either his reelection or his defeat in November. The president also will make a tarmac visit Tuesday, Aug. 18, in Yuma, Ariz.

COVID-19 economic fallout is 'God testing me'

Standing on a stage before Mankato's North Star Aviation flight school, with Air Force One behind him, Trump credited his administration for boosting the economy in his first several years in the White House. Before the coronavirus pandemic — which he referred to as the "China plague" — took hold and delivered the worst health and economic crisis in a generation, Trump said, "Everyone was doing the best they've ever done."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"We built the greatest economy in the history of the world and now I have to do it again," Trump said. "You know what that is? That's God testing me."

Before him, an audience of hundreds of spectators donning red "Make America Great Again" hats and T-shirts cheered throughout his speech and waved campaign signs. Few wore face masks, despite the coronavirus's consistent hold on Minnesota. Fields of corn surrounded the crowd in the southern Minnesota town, and Trump and Biden campaign signs were spotted on Mankato lawns.

For the Minnesota farmers who tend to those fields of corn and soybeans, financial hardship came long before the pandemic. Agricultural commodity prices have been down for years, thanks in part to the White House's long-standing trade war with China and ethanol waivers granted to small oil refineries. Trump has held that the trade war, though tough for farmers in the short-term, will pay off eventually. And on Monday, he touted USMCA as a superior trade negotiation over its predecessor, NAFTA.

Ahead of the visit, Minnesota's state Sen. Nick Frentz, D-North Mankato, said on a media call that the White House's policies "are hurting southern Minnesota and they're hurting agriculture."

A Trump supporter uses their phone as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at the Mankato Regional Airport. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
A Trump supporter uses their phone as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at the Mankato Regional Airport. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

On civil unrest: 'We will wipe out the problem within minutes'

While in the state, Trump took shots at Minnesota Democrats for their leadership and politics in the aftermath of George Floyd's death in May and the ensuing protests, some of which turned violent and destructive. Of his frequent political sparring mate, Minneapolis' U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Trump asked, "how the hell did she win?" her primary election last week and credited mail-in voting for her 18-point victory. He went on to call her "crazy" and "a horrible woman who hates our country."

He also called out names of Democratic mayors across the country, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, and asked, "Do you want your communities to be run like radical left cities?" The crowd called back, "No!"

"If left-wing Democrats can’t run a city, why on Earth would you let them run your country?" he asked.

Trump also took aim at some politicians and activists, calling them "radical left anarchists" for their demands to pull funding from police departments, or abolish them altogether. During the Twin Cities' protests this summer, Trump said Minneapolis and St. Paul were "ablaze," and credited himself for mobilizing the state National Guard to assist in keeping the peace, although that was a decision made by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, not Trump.

"My administration has made clear to every mayor and governor in the country that the federal government is ready to send the National Guard and federal reinforcements (to protests)," Trump said. "We will wipe out the problem within minutes. You saw it happening right here. You wouldn’t have a city if we didn't demand that that take place."

Robin Carlson, 41, of St. Francis, Minn., said she came out to Monday's event to support Trump because, coming from a military family, she appreciated his pro-military and pro-police messages. She said she was deeply concerned about reported arson fires and looting in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the summer's civil unrest, and wanted to see decisive executive action.

“We’re in the rural area of Minnesota and we like our privacy. We like the Second Amendment," she said. "So, to see people coming in and tearing down the cities. His support for the military is important to me."

Attendees stand for the National Anthem ahead of President Donald Trump's campaign event Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at the Mankato Regional Airport. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Attendees stand for the National Anthem ahead of President Donald Trump's campaign event Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at the Mankato Regional Airport. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Aiming to flip Minnesota red in November

Trump in 2016 came within 1.5 percentage points of victory in Minnesota in his bid against Hillary Clinton and he has said he hopes to snap the state's longest-in-the-nation record of supporting a Democrat in presidential contests. The president's campaign has committed millions of dollars into campaign ad buys around the state in hopes of turning it red.

And in the once reliably blue Wisconsin, Trump delivered an upset in 2016, winning the state by less than a percentage point.

Mankato's event is Trump's fifth appearance in Minnesota since taking the oath of office in 2017. Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said before the event that the president's appearance "builds up that enthusiasm" for the campaign. Asked if she's confident Trump will score Minnesota's electoral votes in November, Carnahan said "absolutely."

"If there’s any year that we are going to make history in this state and deliver our electoral votes to a Republican candidate for president, it’s for President Trump on Nov. 3," she said.

Democratic state party leaders, on the other hand, reaffirmed their commitment to fighting against the Republican bid, also saying they'd put millions of dollars and volunteer hours into the effort.

On a news call ahead of Trump's appearance, Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin said the Trump administration "has been a complete disaster for Minnesota families," pointing to the White House's ongoing tariff war, environmental protection rollbacks and more. He also called Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic as "failed."

"There is no number of Trump visits to Minnesota which will change the fact that Minnesotans are suffering because of the disastrous policies of the Trump administration," Martin said. "His visit to our state is nothing more than a desperate publicity stunt and a distraction."

Earlier Monday morning, though, in a separate call kicking off the DNC, Martin said November's election will be "very close."

"This election is not going to be easy," he said. "It's not going to be a landslide."

On that early Monday morning call, Walz noted that his political career started 16 years ago in Mankato following another presidential visit. He said the Trump administration had stoked fear in the country and hadn't provided a uniform response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading states to fend for themselves.

“I wake up every morning imagining what this world would look like rather than this nightmare that we have right now," Walz said, stumping for Biden and Harris on the call. "This has to end."

Trump is the fourth president to visit Mankato. Presidents William Howard Taft, Harry Truman and George W. Bush visited the city before him.