Trump moves Minnesota rally while Biden announces visit
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A rally by President Donald Trump in southern Minnesota was in flux much of Thursday after his campaign moved it from Rochester to a small town in another county, and then back to Rochester after state officials insisted that the event follow coronavirus safety guidelines, including a cap of 250 attendees.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton told The Associated Press on Thursday night that she’d just received a text from the city attorney confirming that the campaign had agreed to scale back the airport rally to an invitation-only event with no more than 250 people.
Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement saying his office and other agencies held a conference call Wednesday with a Republican National Committee official about “their responsibilities for holding a safe, compliant event.” He said they later asked the RNC in writing for a COVID preparedness plan for the Rochester airport event, but got no response.
Ellison added that when they learned Thursday morning that the event was moving to a steel company in Dodge Center, they asked the Trump campaign, the RNC and the company again for a preparedness plan, and once again got no response.
“Now we have learned the event has moved again,” Ellison said. “We did not cancel this event: indeed, we have no authority to cancel events and have never cancelled an event.”
The Trump campaign and the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. The Minnesota Department of Health has linked 28 coronavirus cases to other recent Trump campaign events in the state.
But the GOP state chairwoman, Jennifer Carnahan, was angry with Ellison and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz over the pressure.
“Suppression. Interference with our first amendment rights,” she tweeted. “This is what @GovTimWalz @AGEllison are doing by abusing the power of their offices to block us from seeing our President! We will see @realDonaldTrump and this manipulation by the left will backfire in 5 days.”
The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, meanwhile, announced Thursday that the former vice president will travel to St. Paul on Friday, setting up dueling visits that highlight Minnesota’s status as a battleground state. Both Trump and Biden also campaigned in Minnesota on the same day last month, when Trump held a rally in Bemidji and Biden visited the Duluth area.
The Biden campaign said the former vice president will attend a drive-in event in St. Paul, tentatively set for 3:45 p.m., but did not announce the location. The campaign will livestream it on its website.
The Trump campaign had announced Wednesday that the president would lead a rally at the city-owned Rochester International Airport on Friday evening and made no mention of limiting attendance. The campaign had been in discussions earlier in the week about holding it in Mankato. But the campaign on Thursday moved it to a private company, McNeilus Steel, in Dodge Center, about 25 miles (40.23 kilometers) west of Rochester, without making an official announcement.
By then the campaign already had wired the site rental fee to the airport — the mayor wasn’t sure of the amount — and had set up scaffolding at the airport when the campaign told local officials it was changing venues, she said. The campaign removed the scaffolding Thursday morning, she said.
Glenn Sylvester, the Dodge Center steel company’s chief operating officer, told Minnesota Public Radio that he expected several thousand people to attend the event at his company. In an email to McNeilus staff, Sylvester wrote they that expected 25,000 people to attend and he encouraged employees to participate.
Asked about such a large crowd for a Trump rally, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm noted that the presidential campaigns have been made aware of the state’s guidelines, including crowd limits, but said enforcing them beforehand can prove difficult..
“We just have to keep reinforcing to people what the expectations are,” she said at a briefing for reporters.
Associated Press writer Mohamed Ibrahim contributed to this story.