Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump likely came as close to Minnesota as he will get before Election Day when he held a campaign rally in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Tuesday night.
Trump fans lined up for blocks and waited for hours outside the Zorn Arena on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus. Eau Claire is about 80 miles east of St. Paul, and plenty of Minnesota Trump supporters made the trip. No matter their home state, those in line shared a common enthusiasm for their candidate and a common dislike of his opponent.
Shannon Thompson of McGrath, Minnesota, said he could never vote for Hillary Clinton but likes a lot about Trump.
“He’s got a good business rapport. He’s got much more going for him. He doesn’t have the federal government on him. All around, he’s the best candidate we got right now,” Thompson said.
Mary Susan Rehrer, a Trump volunteer from Chanhassen, made the trip with a carload of friends. Rehrer said she is not disappointed that Trump hasn’t campaigned in Minnesota.
“We understand there’s a strategy to what he’s doing. But ironically, our state, we’re doing pretty good without him. We are. Aren’t we guys? We’re one or two points. It’s like when it’s right and the people hear truth. It comes through social media now. So, he doesn’t have to come,” she said.
Inside the arena, Trump delivered a speech that touched on a wide range of topics.
Trump earned loud applause with his familiar pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He shared his concerns about the rising health insurance premiums in Wisconsin, and also in Minnesota.
“The premium increase will be close to 60 percent,” he said. “You know that. Sixty percent in Minnesota and a lot higher following. So, that’s pretty bad. The Democratic governor has just said the Affordable Care Act in Minnesota is no longer affordable.”
Trump repeated his well-traveled pledges to protect the nation’s borders, boost the economy and upgrade the military. But Trump spent most of his 40-minute speech criticizing Hillary Clinton, including the recent news that FBI investigators are again looking into her emails.
“This is the biggest scandal since Watergrate,” he said. “And now it’s been reported that there are FBI inquiries probing virtually all of Hillary Clinton’s inner cricle. She wants to blame everyone else.”
Trump was interrupted by chants of “lock her up” from the audience.
He acknowledged early voters in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and said it’s not too late for Democrats –who might be having “buyer’s remorse” after voting for Clinton — to change their minds.
“You can change your vote to Donald Trump. We’ll make America great again, okay? She is not going to make America great,” he said.
Actually Tuesday was the last day for people who voted early in Minnesota to change their votes.
Trump has made several campaign stops in Wisconsin this year, but has not set foot in Minnesota since a private fundraiser back in August. Still, Trump has said he believes he can win the state. In Eau Claire, he said he was doing “fantastically well” in Minnesota.
One person not buying that theory is Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin.
“They’ve made little to no investment in this state yet, whether it’s TV ads, radio ads, any mailers,” Martin said. “They have no staff on the ground, no offices here, and I don’t know how in eight days they think they’re going to be able to overcome Hillary’s pretty sizeable lead from our own polling.”
Trump’s Eau Claire rally included introductory remarks from top Wisconsin Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
He also brought along RNC Chair Reince Priebus, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former college basketball coach Bobby Knight.
Hillary Clinton has had her own surrogates campaigning in Wisconsin. Just this week her running mate Tim Kaine and her daughter Chelsea were in the state, another sign that Wisconsin, and not Minnesota is a target in the presidential race this year.