Ask Larry Cuffe why, after decades of voting for Democrats, he voted for Donald Trump four years ago, and he will talk about his lack of confidence in Hillary Clinton and the need to return to work the mines of northern Minnesota.
Ask the former police officer why he stays with Trump in 2020 and the list is longer.
“The Democratic party has left us. Even in the last four years it has changed tremendously. Supporting the people in turmoil? Destroying the police? That is crazy. I think many of us here are Democrats in Republican dress today,”; he said.
Cuffe, who twice voted for Barack Obama, was one of six mayors from a stretch of Minnesota mining country, known as the Iron Range, who forsook the Democratic party and signed a joint letter endorsing Trump even as the state retreats. opponent of president Joe Biden
The mayors said that after decades of voting for Democrats, they no longer considered the party as an advocate for workers.
“Living politicians like Joe Biden do not interact with the working class, do not interact with what the country needs, and do not interact with us here in the Iron Range and in small towns like of us all over the country, “they said.
The mayors praised Trump for standing by China, cutting taxes and saying he was “fighting for workers”.
“Now, four years later, the Iron Range is shrinking to life and for the first time in a very long time, the locals have hope because of this president’s policies and willingness to fight for us, “the mayors said in their endorsement.
After Minnesota lost less than 1.5% of the vote four years ago, Trump thought he could last in the middle of the state this year. This is a potential prize that, if it falls on the president’s lap, would certainly mean that Biden also lost the critical neighboring states of Wisconsin and Michigan.
That now appears to be more likely not for Trump because opinion polls always give Biden a lead in Minnesota of six points or more with early voting.
But mayors cling to the hope that Trump may once again pull the unexpected with the help of a region where many traditional Democratic voters who supported the president four years ago were not removed from the party this year. Clinton withdrew large numbers as a candidate in 2016 but has since opened a gap in the wider Democratic party and Biden has failed to bridge it.
The previously merged Iron Range was part of one of several congressional districts to return to Republicans in the otherwise dangerous 2018 midterms for Trump because voters in the region liked his argument with China over steel disposal and a promise to clear the way for vast new mines blocked by Obama.
Two years later, support for Trump seems to have intensified following protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis, the state’s largest city, after the death of George Floyd, and in the midst of demands to destroy the police. Cuffe is also angry with a new breed of democratic politicians who speak out “socialism” and eliminate the implementation of immigration.
But the immediate issue that mayors and other Democrats have drawn to Trump in the Iron Range is mining, the source of the region’s fading prosperity, and there they say he has delivered.
Andrea Zupancich, a real estate agent and part-time mayor of the small town of Babbitt who also voted for Obama and signed the letter in support of Trump, twice testified to Congress that China has cast cheap steel on The US has killed its people.
He said imports reduced the demand for iron ore from mines around Babbitt that cost work, hit the local economy and encouraged people to leave the city.
“We begged Obama to do something about it. He started doing a little bit and then it was kind of just fizzled,” she said.
Zupancich acknowledged Trump’s stance on China by imposing tariffs on its steel which he said injected new life into the US industry and the Iron Range.
“The tariffs, which bring an equal playing field for the sale of our steel, so we have noticed an increase in the production of mines. We see that they are taking people, they are putting money into the mines. Earlier they planning for mining, ”she said.
The Trump administration claims to encourage steel production in the region by nearly one-third, to create hundreds of new mining jobs and to increase the wages of miners.
Steve Bonach, president of the local branch of the United Steelworkers union, said Trump’s claims were overwhelming.
“I’m not saying Trump has saved the steel industry. He promised in some of the ads that he will open six new steel mills. He has not yet opened new mills, he closed them,” Bonach said. emphasizing that he speaks for himself, not in the union. “We have a Detroit store closed. Got it all [iron ore] pellets from here. He talked to the people there and said he would run it and it would not run. We still have two other talents that are lower. So still struggling. Still a challenge. ”
But Bonach acknowledged that many of his members who may have voted for Democrats in the past now support Trump.
“He threw away the tariff. He rode it up to this point. I’m not saying he didn’t help. He helped it But in general I’m not sure it has changed much,” he said.
Anger also erupted in the region after Obama blocked a vast copper and nickel mine in Minnesota’s Superior national forest that owners said would last for decades. Trump raised the block.
“We are sitting on a half trillion dollar worth of copper and nickel,” Zupancich said. “We import all our nickel while we can supply 90% of the nickel worldwide and the state will really benefit. Mining taxes pay for our schools for the whole state.”
The plan ran in opposition from the Minnesota Democrats due to environmental concerns. In Zupancich it makes no sense if the mining ban in northern Minnesota means the minerals come from countries like China or Russia with lower environments and other standards.
“Minnesota has strict mining and safety standards. The green energy, turbines, copper, nickel, platinum, cobalt, we have here. We import them from child-producing countries, There are no strict safety standards, no environmental standards, and we have it. So we want to make sure it is done, and we want to make sure it is done right. Trump understands that, “she said.
But if the mining that Democrats drew in the Iron Range to Trump four years ago, many remain with him because they think they are further away from their former party.
Cuffe, a military veteran, watched the protests and devastation in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, and what he hailed as Democrats’ conspiracy to do so, without hope. He laughs at the calls to defend the police. He was shocked that the Minneapolis council had passed an ordinance to disband the city force.
“I think reform has always been a great route, but when you vote to fully trust the police, it creates a lot of problems. We are an armed society. We are in a very troubled society today, a very violent society, and a very separate country. We need the police, “he said.
Cuffe put up other failures, including a claim that “we are shocked to actually erase our entire United States history by the collapse of these monuments.”
But he acknowledged that focusing on the past was a reflection of the shifting priorities and politics of many Democratic voters in other parts of the country.
“You have millennials and younger people who want to go in and try to shape their lives. You can support it or not,” he said.
Zupancich, too, worries about the talk of democratic socialism and what he considers to be a super radical wave of young Democrats, portrayed by Ilhan Omar – the Minnesota congressman who was the first colored woman to hold of the national elective office in the state.
However, mining remains at the core of the Iron Range presidential race. Bonach said he did not believe Biden was opposed to mining, but he said there was a strong understanding in the region that Democrats as a whole, and that had a big impact.
“The perception hurt Biden, there is no doubt about it. USW will make sure that Biden is doing the right thing,” he said.