DULUTH, Minn. — With less than two weeks until Election Day, Vice President Joe Biden hit the campaign trail Friday for a House candidate in a must-hold seat for the Democrats.
Incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, is running for re-election in one of the most expensive House districts in the country — a district whose Iron Range, about an hour north of here, has fallen on tough times.
Donald Trump’s populist and anti-trade message has resonated among working-class Democrats on the Range, and it’s that appeal that Biden was dispatched here to counter.
“If you read about me in the press, I’m often referred to as ‘middle class Joe,’” Biden said at a rally here, noting that in Washington, D.C., that also means he’s perceived as not sophisticated. “But I’m pretty darn sophisticated about the middle class,” he said. “I know who built America.”
“Rick grew up 1,200 miles away from me, and we grew up in the same neighborhood,” Biden said, comparing his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Nolan’s in Brainerd, Minnesota. Acknowledging the loss of mining jobs on the Iron Range, Biden spoke at length about the loss of dignity that comes with job loss.
Touting Nolan’s ties to the working class in his district was a major theme on Friday. “Rick gets it. He gets it in his gut,” Biden said.
Nolan is one of just three Democratic incumbents that Republicans have a chance of knocking off this year, and outside money is pouring into the 8th District to boost GOP businessman Stewart Mills, who lost narrowly to Nolan, 48.5 to 47.1 percent, in 2014. Biden also campaigned for Nolan during that close election.
“If you listen to Rick’s opponents, or all Republican House members running this year, it’s as if [Mills has] suddenly seen the Lord,” Biden said. It’s as if, he said, everyone is now “talking about fighting for the middle class.”
Mills blasted Biden over the 2010 health care law and MNsure, Minnesota's health insurance marketplace, in a statement put out before the vice president had even arrived in Duluth.
“As Obamacare and MNsure are melting down and Minnesotans in our part of the state are seeing their premiums skyrocket up to 67 percent, Congressman Nolan is trying to jump-start his own stumbling campaign by rolling out the red carpet for one of the chief architects of Obamacare – Vice President Biden,” Mills said.
Enthusiasm about seeing the vice president brought about 300 people to the University of Minnesota Duluth campus Friday morning, and although they wore Nolan stickers and waved his signs, not all of them knew much about him. One woman lifted the lapel of her jean jacket to reveal a Nolan sticker. She thought she’d voted for the congressman last cycle, but she wasn’t sure.
But DFL leaders mostly rallied the party faithful here in Duluth — a DFL stronghold in the district — from United Steelworkers to a young mom, with her two kids, who was ecstatic about the possibility of her six-year-old son continuing to never experience a white male president.
Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, another rally attendee, said he knew he was “preaching to the choir,” when speaking about the importance of this election and electing Hillary Clinton and Nolan.
“The choir needs to sing loudly,” Walz said.
Another couple had already voted early for Nolan, and as registered Democrats, they were all in for Nolan and Clinton. They said they were just here to see Biden. “I’m a little surprised he’d come here for a House candidate,” the husband said.
Democrats need to net 30 seats to win the House majority, which means they can’t afford to lose any of the seats they already hold. Democrats have a narrow registration advantage in the 8th District, and President Barack Obama twice carried the district, by single digits.
But Trump is likely to carry the district, which means Nolan has to over-perform Clinton. A KSTP/SurveyUSA poll conducted Oct. 16-19 showed Trump carrying the district by 12 points, 47 to 35 percent. The same poll showed Mills with a 45-41 percent edge.
A Democratic poll conducted for House Majority PAC, which backs Democratic House candidates, also showed Trump carrying the district — but by 1 point. That poll had Nolan up by 8 points.