'The Democratic party left us': how rural Minnesota is making the switch to Trump

Posted 9 days ago


Ask Larry Cuffe why, after decades of voting for Democrats, he voted for Donald Trump four years ago, and he’ll talk about his distrust of Hillary Clinton and the need to get northern Minnesota’s mines back to work.

Ask the former police officer why he’s sticking with Trump in 2020 and the list is very much longer.

“The Democratic party left us. Even in the past four years it’s changed so much. Supporting people who riot? Defunding the police? That’s crazy. I think a lot of us up here are Democrats in Republican clothing now,” he said.

Cuffe, who twice voted for Barack Obama, is one of six mayors from a stretch of Minnesota mining country, known as the Iron Range, who turned their back on the Democratic party and signed a joint letter endorsing Trump even as the state is swinging behind the president’s opponent, Joe Biden

The mayors said that after decades of voting for Democrats, they no longer regarded the party as advocating for workers.

“Lifelong politicians like Joe Biden are out of touch with the working class, out of touch with what the country needs, and out of touch with those of us here on the Iron Range and in small towns like ours across our nation,” they said.

The mayors praised Trump for standing up to China, cutting taxes and said he “fought for the working class”.

“Now, four years later, the Iron Range is roaring back to life and for the first time in a very long time, locals are hopeful because of this president’s policies and willingness to fight for us,” the mayors said in their endorsement.

After losing Minnesota by less 1.5% of the vote four years ago, Trump imagined he might take the midwestern state this year. It was a potential prize that, if it fell into the president’s lap, would almost certainly mean Biden also lost the crucial neighboring swing states of Wisconsin and Michigan.

That now appears to be increasingly unlikely for Trump as opinion polls consistently give Biden a lead in Minnesota of six points or more with early voting already under way.

Related: US election polls tracker: who is leading in the swing states?

But the mayors cling to hope that Trump can once again pull off the unexpected with the help of a region where many traditionally Democrat voters who backed the president four years ago have not been drawn back to the party this year. Large numbers were alienated by Clinton as a candidate in 2016 but since then a gap has opened up with the broader Democratic party and Biden has failed to bridge it.

The once heavily unionized Iron Range is part of one of the few congressional districts to flip to the Republicans in the otherwise disastrous 2018 midterms for Trump as voters in the region liked his showdown with China over steel dumping and a promise to clear the way for vast new mines blocked by Obama.

Two years later, support for Trump appears to have strengthened further following the protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis, the state’s largest city, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, and amid demands to defund the police. Cuffe is also hostile to a new breed of Democratic politicians who talk of “socialism” and scrap immigration enforcement.

But the immediate issue that drew the mayors and other Democrats to Trump in the Iron Range was mining, the source of the region’s fading prosperity, and on that they say he has delivered.

Andrea Zupancich, a real estate agent and part-time mayor of the small city of Babbitt who also voted for Obama and signed the letter in support of Trump, twice testified to Congress that China dumping cheap steel on the US was killing her community.

She said the imports drove down demand for iron ore from the mines around Babbitt which cost jobs, battered the local economy and drove people to leave the city.

“We were pleading with Obama to do something about this. He started doing a little bit and then it just kind of fizzled,” she said.

Zupancich credits Trump for standing up to China by imposing tariffs on its steel that she says has injected new life into the industry in the US and the Iron Range.

“The tariffs, that is causing an equal playing field for the selling of our steel, so we’ve noticed an increase in the mines’ production. We see that they’re hiring people, they’re putting ... (Read more)