ST. PAUL — Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday, Oct. 30, made his final appeal to Minnesota voters promising a solution to the coronavirus pandemic, more affordable health care and return to the civility of American society amid a cacophony of car horns from supporters and taunts from protesters outside the event.
Biden along with several Minnesota Democrats also encouraged voters to cast any of their outstanding absentee ballots in-person to ensure they get counted. A last-minute court decision Thursday night, Oct. 29, called on the state to separate ballots that come in after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
“You have a sacred duty, a duty to vote. Minnesota matters," Biden told roughly 250 attendees at a drive-in rally at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. "We choose hope over fear, we choose union over division, science over fiction, we choose truth over lives. It’s time to stand up and take back our democracy. We can do this. We are so much better than this."
Biden supporters pulled into the parking lot hours before the former vice president would make his debut with red, white and blue Biden-Harris campaign signs plastered to their windows. Socially distanced supporters blared their car horns as speakers and performers entertained them leading up to Biden's speech.
Steve Johnson of Red Wing, Minn., drove an hour to attend the event. He donned a Biden-Harris beanie to shield himself from the late-October chill, and a button on his coat which announced that he was immune compromised, requesting others to social distance from him.
For Johnson, COVID-19 "is one of the main issues."
"It is a scary feeling to walk into a store and have somebody come up behind you coughing," Johnson said. "The fact that this ticket, Joe and Kamala (Harris) truly understand what people who are immune-compromised go through, that's huge because the Trump administration just doesn't understand that. They don't get it. Our lives obviously are just not important enough for them to want to do what's right."
"I'm really sad that (Trump has) divided this issue, divided us so much and made it political," he added.
Biden's visit comes in the final runup to Election Day as recent polls show Biden with a 5- to 10-point lead in Minnesota. Despite his edge in polling, both major campaigns made head-to-head stops in the state Friday, with President Donald Trump set to pay Rochester International Airport a visit in a rally and "planned protest," according to the Trump campaign.
Earlier in the day, Biden told reporters that he wasn't worried about losing the state but wanted to stop while making a swing through the Midwest to make sure he didn't take any state's support for granted.
Republicans have been pushing to make Minnesota's 10 electoral college votes competitive. Since Trump lost the state to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by less than two percentage points, the president has become entranced with snapping Minnesota's longest-in-the-nation record of supporting Democrats for president. Trump has made several visits to the state in his effort and his campaign has poured millions of dollars into Minnesota ad campaigns.
“Joe Biden’s last-minute visit to the land of 10,000 lakes doesn’t change a thing," Republican National Committee Spokesperson Preya Samsundar said. "Minnesotans will make their choice clear when they flip the state red on Election Day for President Trump.”
Trump was set to touch down later in the afternoon at Rochester International Airport for a rally that he rebranded as a "peaceful protest" of the state's COVID-19 mitigation measures. The event was moved twice the day before it was set to take place as the Trump campaign and state and local officials negotiated a deal over attendance and other conditions.
State rules limit event attendance at 250 people, require social distancing and facemask wearing in situations where people are in close proximity. Prior Trump events in the state broke agreements about sticking to state requirements and Rochester officials said they wouldn't host Trump unless his campaign stuck to the required cap on attendees.
Biden at his rally in St. Paul made a point of criticizing the president's handling of the pandemic and flouting health guidance around mitigation measures. And he promised that if elected, he'd put in place a more comprehensive strategy to contain it.
"I'm not going to shut down the economy, I'm going to shut down the virus," Biden said. "Donald Trump has waved the white flag and surrendered to this virus."
Protesters make their voices — and horns — heard
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis Friday said he planned to "fight fire with fire" against state leaders setting the COVID-19 restrictions
On Twitter, the former U.S. representative urged 251 of his supporters to show up at the Biden event before it was set to begin so that the campaign wouldn't be able to hold it due to state restrictions on attendance. Lewis, himself, would not make an appearance as he is still recovering from emergency surgery earlier this week.
Roughly 150 Trump supporters showed up to the state fairgrounds Friday afternoon to protest the Biden event but appeared thwarted by required security checkpoints which didn't allow them through, as they didn't RSVP. Throughout the event, they yelled out at speakers from behind a fence and blew whistles and horns.
Most of those who eventually showed up to protest at the State Fairgrounds had been planning to go anyway.
John Tschol, 73, of Bloomington had tickets to see Trump in Rochester on Friday, until that event’s attendance was also limited to 250 by the governor.
“I was just furious and started communicating and left messages with the governor’s office and with (attorney general Keith) Ellison’s office,” said Tschol, who was one of just a handful among the Trump supporters who wore a mask. “These guys are corrupt politicians and it’s the stupidest thing they did because it will turn Minnesota and energize the Republicans more than anything they could’ve done. I just think it was a serious mistake by raw politics, stupid politics and Biden’s going to pay a price for it.”
The protesters manned the area outside where most Biden supporters entered the event, offering some verbal barbs about Hunter Biden and the choice to wear a mask inside your car.
When Biden got to the podium, about half of the pro-Trump crowd hustled to the back and side of the stage, blowing whistles, shouting into bullhorns and blowing air horns in an attempt to down out the former vice president’s words. With Biden aided by huge speakers pointed toward the intended audience, it likely did not work.
"Go Home Joe,” they chanted as Biden left the stage and his motorcade departed. With that, the Trump crowd dispersed as well, flags draped over their shoulders as they headed back to their cars.
“Well, we did what we could,” said one.
1.6 million absentee ballots so far
As of Friday, the secretary of state's office had accepted 1,581,193 absentee ballots and another 389,000 had been requested but hadn't yet been accepted. The 8th U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday dealt a blow to the state's election plan, deciding absentee ballots that came in after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, should be separated from those that came in before that deadline.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the later ballots would be counted toward the state's presidential race tallies.
Ahead of Biden's speech, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith hopped onstage to urge voters to turn in absentee ballots in person in the next four days. And they said the Republicans who aimed to have late ballots separated likely were worried about their outlook in the election.
"We know why you're doing it," Walz said. "It's because you are getting your butt kicked."
Republicans have argued an extended deadline to accept absentee ballots due to the pandemic violated state and federal election law and election officials shouldn't change the rules amid a pandemic.
Voters worried about their ballots not arriving in time can check the status of their ballots online at mnvotes.org or by phone at 1-877-600-8683.