MINNEAPOLIS – President Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted that he plans to flip the blue state of Minnesota in 2020, and to prove his point he’s headed to the Democratic bastion of Minneapolis Thursday for his first campaign rally since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against him.
Minneapolis, a sanctuary city known for its left-leaning politics, is also home to Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born freshman lawmaker the president has repeatedly lashed out at on Twitter and cast as the one of the faces of the Democratic party.
Omar, who won 78% of her district in 2018, enjoys wide support in her hometown of Minneapolis. The city is preparing to greet the president by holding a massive protest outside Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, where he will speak Thursday night.
Thousands are expected to attend the protest, which will center on fighting Trump’s anti-immigration policies and what critics see as divisive rhetoric, according to Giselda Guiterrez, an organizer with Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC), which is coordinating the protest with other local activist groups. She expects a large turnout among the city’s diverse community.
Minnesota, which is home to a large Somali immigrant population, also has the largest number of refugees per capita nationwide, with 13% of the country’s refugees, according to U.S. Census data.
“We just want to have a strong community presence of thousands of people that oppose the president’s message of hate against every marginalized community that he’s attacked one way or another,” Guiterrez said.
She said she expects Trump to upbraid Omar during the rally since she is “a constant focus of his Twitter.”
“He will attack her for sure, and that’s going to bleed into attacking the community here in general.”
But the battle for Minnesota began well before Omar was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. Minnesota, which hasn’t elected a Republican president since Richard Nixon in 1972, narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton by 1.5% in 2016. Trump, who lost by a margin of 44,000 votes, has indicated he thinks he can close that gap in 2020.
According to Republican National Committee (RNC) officials, the campaign has built out a training program since 2016 that counts nearly 1,000 local volunteers across the state as part of the Trump Leadership Victory Initiative. Republicans have focused much of their attention on rural parts of Minnesota, where the GOP flipped two congressional seats during the 2018 midterm election.
Minnesota Democrats have acknowledged local GOP efforts, noting in a Twitter thread donation drive on Monday that the state has been trending more red in previous presidential elections.
“The Trump campaign is staffing up in Minnesota in ways we’ve never seen before, and frankly we just can’t keep up,” one Tweet read.
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen will also attend the rally, but it’s unclear if the big names can help fill Target Center’s nearly 20,000 seats.
Ahead of his visit, Trump has amplified his attacks on both Omar and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a vocal critic of Trump who drew the president’s ire after city officials told the venue where the rally is taking place it would be responsible for footing the bill of $530,000 in security costs related to the visit. The venue, Target Center, tried to pass off the bill to the Trump campaign, which responded by threatening to sue for breach of contract. Trump weighed in on the fracas on Twitter on Tuesday, calling the mayor “lightweight” and calling on his supporters to “dump” both Frey and Omar.
According to the Trump campaign, the Target Center withdrew its request to pay security fees upfront. Trump supporters stormed the mayor’s office Wednesday to protest the cost of the event.
The president also took issue with a recent Minnesota Police Department policy change barring off-duty officers from wearing uniforms to political events. The police union responded by designing “Cops for Trump” shirts that officers plan to wear and sell at the event.
Winning Minnesota would be an uphill battle for the president. Trump’s net approval ratings have dropped from +3 in January 2017 to -11, according to Morning Consult.
Local Minneapolis resident James Allison said he’s not convinced by the numbers just yet.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have voted Democratic or typically vote Democratic, and they’re voting for Trump this time around,” the 38-year-old said. “There’s a whole host of reasons that people are voting for him, but hate and fascism are not among them.”
But Jackie Craig, who works with Women’s March Minnesota and plans to attend Thursday’s protest, said she believes his strategy in Minnesota isn’t working.
“I think he’s actually bringing people closer together, and people here more understanding of each other’s differences and supporting one another,” she said. “And that diversity and inclusiveness will be on display outside the rally.”
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