Trump rallies voters in Rochester
The eyes of the nation were on Rochester Thursday night as President Donald Trump took to the podium at the Mayo Civic Center’s Taylor Arena to stump for Republican candidates in competitive races across Minnesota.
“So, this is supposed to be a Democrat state,” Trump told the crowd. “I don’t think so … They have a very big surprise coming — don’t you think?”
The president’s visit came five weeks ahead of the critical midterm elections. Republicans are hoping to retain control of Congress, and have their sights on a series of closely-contested House races, including Minnesota’s 1st District, which encompasses the southern portion of the state.
“Think back where we were just two years ago,” said Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn, who is running against DFLer Dan Feehan in the 1st District. “Our nation’s future was on the line. Had we not won that election, we would have lost the country the way the forefathers put it together.”
Feehan, a former Pentagon official who served two combat tours in Iraq, was the subject of ridicule from both Trump and Hagedorn. They accused Feehan and other Minnesota Democrats of moving further to the left on issues like immigration, abortion, guns and health care.
“We have all these congressional candidates, including the guy I’m running against, who thinks we should have socialized medicine, single-payer,” said Hagedorn. “Does that make sense for the Mayo Clinic, Rochester? No.”
Following the rally, DFL Chairman Ken Martin, released a statement calling Trump’s return to Minnesota a “clear sign that he and Minnesota Republicans are worried about the direction Minnesota is trending.”
“Democrats are sharing a positive message about the things we all value — access to quality affordable health care, great schools for our kids, and an economy that works for all Minnesotans — and it’s resonating with voters across Minnesota,” said Martin.
For the most part, Thursday’s rally was a greatest hits of Trump’s campaign messaging. He blasted Democrats as the “party of crime,” criticized the news media and touted his “America First” economic policies.
“After years of rebuilding other nations, we are finally rebuilding our nation,” Trump said, prompting a roaring applause from the audience.
Notably absent from Trump’s speech was any criticism of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault. Unlike a rally earlier this week, in which he mocked Ford, Trump stayed on message — praising Kavanaugh as an “incredible person” and accusing Democrats of orchestrating a political hit.
The Senate could take a key vote on the judge’s confirmation Friday.
“They know Judge Kavanaugh will protect, uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America,” Trump said.
Thursday’s rally marked the first visit to Rochester by a sitting president since 2004 when George W. Bush stopped through town for a campaign event. (Barack Obama rode a motorcade through the city in 2011.)
The event drew thousands of people downtown, most of them supporters of the president. But because more tickets were distributed than available, hundreds — if not thousands — of people were left waiting outside or watching from a separate screening area inside the civic center.
Still, for those who came to see Trump — often from hours away — the long wait was worth the opportunity to witness history.
“I’m dedicated,” Joe Thom, of Lakefield, told reporters. “We love our president, our president loves us, so it’s a little love fest.”
Prior to Trump’s appearance in Rochester, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets for a peaceful march. The protesters largely stayed clear of the sea of Trump supporters. There were no reports of any major confrontations.
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Photography by William Forsman