MOORHEAD — A stop along Minnesota senators Amy Klobuchar’s and Tina Smith’s "Get Out the Vote 2020" tour Thursday, Oct. 29, moved slowly at first. Then former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp showed up.
Cloth mask damp from breathing, she was in her element, back in politics while stumping for Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris.
“This is the most important election of my life, and I am not exaggerating,” Heitkamp said.
Before the senators arrived, Grete Oanes, a volunteer for the Biden campaign in Moorhead, passed out blue stocking hats, Biden-Harris caps, blue face masks and Biden stickers and signs to more than a dozen college students at Minnesota State University Moorhead’s campus mall.
It was the tour’s second stop Thursday morning. The first stop was at Koester Farms in Glyndon, Minn. After leaving Moorhead, the senators planned to attend a voter mobilization event in Minnesota's Iron Range and end the day in Duluth, where they were slated to meet more students.
“Four more years, we cannot wait,” Heitkamp said. “I want the story when this campaign is over to be about you guys. Know that in this neck of the woods that you’re part of a movement.”
Smith said the movement Heitkamp was referring to includes a recent surge of interest to vote from younger people. Some people who leaned politically right and who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 are now tired of the political divide and are changing their votes, she said.
While Trump is still holding large rallies across the nation, with one slated to take place in Rochester, Minn., on Friday, Klobuchar said her party is trying to keep people safe from the coronavirus by holding smaller campaign events.
“If we were to have these big rallies, which we obviously could do, it would just not be safe. We got to be smart about this and we don’t want to have a super-spreader event,” said Klobuchar, speaking behind a red and blue “vote” facemask.
“I don’t think Minnesota is Trump country; I think it’s your country,” Klobuchar said during the tour’s first stop. “We have a president who has bulldozed through our democracy every single day … and we want to make sure that everyone votes, and we know that COVID-19 numbers are spiking in North Dakota and Minnesota, so it’s important to get out and vote, and vote today.”
“We believe you lead by example,” Heitkamp said.
“You can’t just ignore this and hope it is going to go away. You have to deal with it, you have to solve the problem, and that’s what we are doing,” Smith said.
“This idea that I get 2,000 people adoring me right now, that’s not the behavior we need to model right now. And while it may excite the people in an auditorium, the rest of the people — especially in states with huge outbreaks — they’re not impressed," Heitkamp said. "There are a lot of people looking on saying we need to keep our people safe, keep our seniors safe, our disabled safe.”
Under normal circumstances so close to an election, a campaign tour event would have been inside an auditorium, with pizza and hundreds or thousands of people, Klobuchar said.
“It would have also been warmer,” Heitkamp said.
Nico Arias, president of MSUM’s student senate, said volunteering for political campaigns has changed this year. There’s no more door knocking and in its place is online work and lots of telephone calls.
“It’s been a challenge this year to work through the pandemic. There’s a lot of phone banking that goes on,” said Arias, who has already managed one local political race.
Seeing both state senators on campus was a welcome sight for him, Arias said.
“It is incredibly important for students to not only see but interact with their representatives,” Arias said. “Seeing that our two senators are both here on our campus means a lot. It means a lot to me as someone who does everything I can to represent the student body, to be able to get a small chance to speak with them.”
While the tour’s first stop to Koester Farms in Glyndon, Minn., was to point out the agricultural “ravages of the trade war,” Klobuchar and Smith also called out the United States Department of Agriculture on Thursday to reverse a recent decision to “unfairly exclude dairy farmers from receiving COVID-19 relief” to cover meat production-related losses.