Just a few weeks after President Trump came to Duluth to rally for Republican Eighth Congressonial District candidate Pete Stauber, Vice President Mike Pence followed on Wednesday to raise votes and money.
Pence likely succeeded on the second front. More than 100 people gave between $1,000 and $2,700 each to meet the vice president at a private residence on Duluth’s Park Point.
For the votes, Pence and Stauber left the sunny, sandy shores of Lake Superior for the smell of machine oil and the gritty factory floor of Industrial Weldors and Machinists, a 65-year-old family-owned company that supplies parts for northern Minnesota’s mines.
The crowd of 60 at IWM in west Duluth was a sliver of the thousands who rallied for Trump in June. But this part of town is the core of the pro-mining vote that Stauber needs to defeat the winner of the DFL primary next week in which only one of the four contenders, Jason Metsa, is an unequivocal mining supporter.
Against a backdrop of a dozen employees and an enormous taconite grinder, Pence tried to sharpen the differences. “I’m told that following the President’s tax cuts, IWM has been reinvesting in their people. This is the company that actually gave their welders an extra four thousand dollars a year for their pensions,” he said, following a tour of the plant.
“American steel mills are coming back … and they are hungry for Minnesota iron. Mines across the Iron Range are now hiring again. They’re ramping up their capacity again. … Mining is back in Minnesota.”
The union members who make up IWM’s operation are not a natural fit for a Republican administration and many of them say they are political independents, like employee Scott Massie. But he is a Stauber supporter. “He supports the mines and that’s a job for me,” he said. But Trump? He’s “neutral” on him.
I got a few seconds to ask Pence how this administration, popular among the Republican base, can cross the divide from right to center.
“I think it’s what’s happening in this economy,” he replied. “I think the American people see that rolling back red tape, opening up new opportunities to develop America’s natural resources like we spoke about today, cutting taxes, making the right investments to rebuild the military, that’s all generating results and, I think, the enthusiasm you see all across the country.”
National Republicans believe the message is working well enough in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District to warrant top-level visits. But Stauber’s campaign has also had something of a free ride so far.
That will change next week, when a DFL opponent finally emerges in the race to succeed DFL Rep. Rick Nolan, now a candidate for lieutenant governor. Both candidates will use their messages and money to chase down independents, whose votes could determine the outcome in November.