EDITORIAL Mayors’ endorsement puts Range in limelight
It’s not everyday that Ely and Babbitt make national news.
But the communities had their few days in the spotlight this week, and it wasn’t even because of copper-nickel mining.
Instead, the strangest of political seasons had the cameras of a major cable news outlet focused on Ely.
In a matter of two hours Wednesday, both Ely Mayor Chuck Novak and Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich were interviewed on the Fox News Channel, with Zupancich getting a segment on the top-rated program hosted by personality Tucker Carlson.
The topic? The presidential election and the respective mayors’ endorsement of President Donald Trump.
Mayors and other elected officials often take a stand in regional, statewide and national political races.
Candidates for the State House and Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate often showcase the endorsements of regional officials as a means of showing support.
And just a couple of weeks ago, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson endorsed Joe Biden for President.
But Larson’s endorsement didn’t catch the attention of major media outlets or make for any sort of story.
The endorsement by Novak, Zupancich and several other northeastern mayors did, largely because of the election history of the region and state.
It’s been almost 50 years - 1972 to be exact - since Minnesota has voted for a Republican for president.
Minnesota has been a reliably “blue” state and was the only one to vote that way in 1984 when native son Walter Mondale was on the ballot.
The state has become more of a battleground the last two decades, voting narrowly for Democratic candidates in 2000 and 2004, giving Barack Obama wider margins in the ensuing two elections and nearly shocking the world in 2016, when Donald Trump came within a percentage point and about 45,000 votes of tipping Minnesota.
Northeastern Minnesota and particularly the Iron Range have always been a bastion for Democratic support.
Democrats have traditionally run up big margins on the Range, supporting the likes of Obama, Al Gore, John Kerry and earlier on Bill Clinton, Mondale and even Michael Dukakis by wide margins. Range support helped elect Rudy Perpich governor and it sent Jim Oberstar back to Congress for decades. In 1990, the Range played a part in an upset win for the late Paul Wellstone.
But the times, as they say, may be changing.
Republican Pete Stauber now represents the area in Congress, Trump won Ely in 2016 and either carried or came close to carrying other traditional DFL strongholds on the Range.
Recent polls show that Minnesota may be a battleground in the presidential race and more high-profile visits - such as Vice President Mike Pence’s stop last week in Duluth - are all but certain before election day.
Republicans are clearly angling for Minnesota and the Range is part of their strategy - hence the well-timed announcement coinciding with Pence’s visit that several mayors in traditional Democratic hotbeds are supporting Trump and the Republican ticket.
There were a few missteps along the way, with some of the mayors incorrectly identified as Democrats and a campaign-issued letter claiming that the Range “roared back to life” under Trump’s watch.
Those points were clearly off the mark but make no bones about it - it’s big news that mayors in northeastern Minnesota have climbed aboard the Trump Train.
That’s why, a week later, the development continues to attract more steam and attention from both sides. The fact that the steelworkers’ union felt the need to issue a rebuttal shows the impact the endorsement have generated.
Small-town mayoral endorsements in a presidential race generally don’t generate national news, but Novak first got a shout out on one Fox News program over the weekend and then appeared in the opening segment of a primetime program Wednesday night.
Zupancich made national TV twice in three days, first with an interview on a Fox program followed by Wednesday’s sitdown with Carlson, who seemed to revel in the news.
What the endorsements mean remains to be seen.
Residents of Ely and Babbitt are an independent lot and they have a mind of their own when it comes to voting for president, the U.S. Senate or local races. The mayors are clearly speaking for themselves and voters can and should make their own decisions when they enter the voting booth on Nov. 3.
It’s telling, however, that the mayors would take such a stand in a presidential race. Neither would do so if they didn’t feel comfortable that many of their constituents felt the same way, whether the issue is presidential politics, mining or the state’s response to COVID-19.
Labor Day marks the home stretch of an unprecedented election season and now more than ever, northeastern Minnesota is much more than an observer or a reliable Democratic treasure trove.
The mayors have proven that, and put our communities in the spotlight this election season.