HERMANTOWN, Minn. — Joe Biden didn’t give updated positions on copper-nickel mining or Line 3 oil pipeline replacement during a campaign stop in Hermantown, Minn., on Friday, Sept. 18, as some would have wanted.
But the Democratic presidential nominee, speaking at a carpenters union training center, took on President Donald Trump.
In a half-hour speech mostly about blue-collar workers and the middle class, Biden opened by taking down the president’s response to COVID-19.
“So many lives lost unnecessarily because the president is only worried about the stock market and his reelection,” Biden said in front of a crowd of fewer than 50 people, only a portion of them civilian guests and union carpenters — the rest media, staff and U.S. Secret Service. The crowd was capped at about 50 people due to COVID-19 precautionary standards
The day arrived with a record 50 new cases of the coronavirus in St. Louis County, and a death toll hitting 198,886 nationwide — the highest figure for a country in the world.
“If we just wore masks nationwide, we’d save 100,000 lives between now and January,” Biden said, citing expert forecasts. “(H)ow many empty chairs around the dinner table, because of his negligence and selfishness.”
Biden, with running mate Kamala Harris, is vying for the presidency against the Trump-Mike Pence ticket Nov. 3.
Matt Companario, an executive director with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, led a tour, which included welding stations and a volunteer project where carpenter and millwright apprentices are building new boards for the Duluth Heights Youth Hockey rink.
Biden told the crowd that all projects with federal dollars should include American-made materials.
“It can drastically impact the economy of the country," he said.
Biden's arrival in the Northland came one day after he appeared in a nationally broadcast town hall on CNN. During that event he strove to establish himself as a compassionate and stable alternative to Trump.
His visit coincided with the start of early voting in Minnesota and other states across the country. Trump was also campaigning in Bemidji, Minn., Friday.
“We need a president who knows we don’t have a shortage of CEOs, we have a shortage of plumbers and construction workers,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.
Outside the union center, hundreds of Trump and Biden supporters lined busy U.S. Highway 53, flying banners and flags and eliciting honks and a large law enforcement presence.
Peter Sich, 67, of Alborn, Minn., sat in a lawn chair along the highway with his friend, Butch Sorenson, 70, of Island Lake, Minn.
“We’re trying to do all we can do to change the course of our country," Sich said. "I feel strongly that Trump and his administration have mass corruption and is an embarrassment for veterans."
Both Sich and Sorenson enlisted for military service in the 1970s right out of high school.
“I don’t think most veterans appreciate being called suckers and losers,” Sich said, referencing The Atlantic report this month using unnamed sources to cite Trump disparaging Marines who died in World War I.
Biden’s late son, Beau Biden, served in the Army and was deployed for a year in Iraq.
“My son a spent year in Iraq. He wasn’t a loser or a sucker; he was a proud patriot,” Biden said, before bringing up a well-known grievance the Scranton, Pa., native has with Trump. “These are the guys who always thought that they were better than me, than us, because they had a lot of money.”
Nine months ago, the carpenters’ hall was the site U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, chose to announce his reelection bid in the 8th Congressional District. Popular with some unions, Stauber Friday defended Trump's record.
Biden arrives at carpenters union training center in Hermantown. pic.twitter.com/GtiF8bvMSW— Brady Slater (@bradydslater) September 18, 2020
He said the president's administration had boosted the economy in northern Minnesota and promised to support copper-nickel mining and the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline project in the region. He said Biden had yet to support those projects and could stand in the way of growth on the Iron Range.
“I think that the contrast today is evident,” Stauber said. “And I can tell you that I’ve been all over, not only the 8th District, but Northern Minnesota and the enthusiasm for this president is incredible because he supports those middle-class, blue-collar jobs.”
St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Musolf, a union representative who replaced Stauber on the board, was in the audience. Musolf wasn’t surprised to see the carpenters support both Stauber and Biden, despite their opposing parties.
“You look at local races and national races and really what’s best for our area,” Musolf said, calling himself a Biden supporter. “I believe we can get unity back in our area and make progress."
Citing Duluth’s paper mill closure and a downturn on the Iron Range that has seen shipments out of the local port drop 31% over last year’s figures, Musolf added of Biden, “He’s got a real plan to build America back better. He’s not just saying it.”
Former Duluth Mayor Gary Doty said he'd been a longtime member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party but opted to support Trump after it felt as though Democrats abandoned issues he cared about.
“I’ve seen the Democrat Party change over the years, I come from a very political family and we watched it change and I've watched the Democrat Party no longer becoming part of the party for the people," he said. "I’ve seen the Republican Party turn that direction."
Doty also said the Democratic Party's platforms prioritizing clean energy could deal a blow to the region if they move away from mining.
“If we don’t have mining, if we don’t have the support of our government for mining, if they try to keep placing things in the way of mining, it’s going to bring St. Louis County, it’s going to bring Northeastern Minnesota, to its knees," Doty said.
Wayne Nordin, of Cloquet, Minn., regional director with North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, attended and noted a disparity in the carpenters’ ranks.
“Our membership is very split (between the candidates),” Nordin said. “It’s the usual issues — guns, abortion. We don’t care if there’s an R or D in front of your name. We’re pretty bipartisan.”
Biden’s economic plan called for a now-familiar tax increase for people making over $400,000 per year. Money raised would go toward putting tradespeople to work by modernizing infrastructure, bringing broadband internet to all homes, and reinforcing existing homes and structures.
Biden said his plan calls for millions of buildings and home leaking energy to be restored to efficiency. He wants to build 1.5 million new affordable housing units, and invest $100 billion in what he called "crumbling schools." He ripped Trump for not having plans, and talking big on improving infrastructure while failing to implement a massive infrastructure program.
Biden said he’ll invest $2 trillion in roads and bridges.
“I’ll do it without raising taxes,” he said. “You have nothing to worry about if you make less than $400,000. If you make more you’ll pay your fair share.”
He targeted Fortune 500 businesses that make billions but pay “zero” taxes, and he chided the president for using only the stock market as a metric for American prosperity.
“It’s time to reward hard-working Americans and not the wealthy,” he said, citing billions of dollars in profits for the most wealthy despite widespread hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After his speech, Biden appeared in Canal Park, meeting residents and talking to children.
Forum News Service reporters Dana Ferguson and Andee Erickson contributed to this report.