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The mayor of Eveleth, Minn., a small city in the heart of iron-mining country, spoke at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, as President Trump mounts an effort to flip his state, which the Democrats came unexpectedly close to losing in 2016.
Bob Vlaisavljevich, a self-described “lifelong Democrat,” proclaimed that “after decades of despair, the Iron Range is roaring back to life, and we have one man to thank: President Donald Trump.”
Vlaisavljevich praised Trump’s trade policies and his reversal of environmental regulations pushed by Democratic administrations, which he said “would put entire swaths of our country out of a job.”
“The Trump administration’s policies mean that with the discovery of new mineral deposits, the use of innovative mining processes, and the growth of our domestic and global markets, we have the chance to grow and diversify our economy. What was once a pipe dream is now within our grasp,” Vlaisavljevich said.
The Iron Range suffered heavy layoffs in the early 1980s as the steel industry began to contract. According to data from the Federal Reserve, the unemployment rate in St. Louis County — where Eveleth is located — climbed to more than 10 percent in June 2009 and then declined steadily through President Obama’s two terms, falling to 4.9 percent in November 2016. It fell further after Trump took office, and wages in the mining sector increased dramatically, but then spiked this spring during the pandemic, along with unemployment in the rest of the country.
Hillary Clinton won St. Louis County, which includes Eveleth and Duluth, by 12 points in 2016.
While Democrats loaded up their convention with Republicans supporting Biden, Vlaisavljevich is one of the few Democrats speaking in favor of Trump, along with Georgia state legislator Vernon Jones, who spoke Monday.
Trump visited Minnesota last week during a series of events meant to counterprogram the Democratic National Convention. During the visit, he predicted he’d win the state, telling the crowd that they would “deliver a historic victory for our values, our citizens and our treasured way of life.”
While his flips of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin garnered the headlines on election night 2016, Trump came close in Minnesota, losing by just 1.5 percent and dramatically closing the gap on Barack Obama’s eight-point winning margin in 2012. Democrats are also defending two Minnesota swing seats in the House: First-term Rep. Angie Craig in the 2nd District (suburbs and exurbs of St. Paul) and longtime Rep. Collin Peterson, whose 7th District in the rural northwest of the state was won by Trump by 31 points in 2016. Peterson voted against Trump’s impeachment.
According to the 538 polling average, Biden leads Trump by just under six points in Minnesota, but an Emerson poll earlier this month had the Democrat up by just two points, well within the margin of error. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Craig’s race as leaning Democrat and Peterson’s as a toss-up.
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