Taking to a Target Center stage in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday night, President Donald Trump confidently told thousands of cheering supporters that he would carry Minnesota next year on his way to winning a second term.

“For the next 13 months, we are going to fight with all of our heart and soul and we are going to win the great state of Minnesota in 2020,” Trump said in a wide-ranging speech that targeted Democrats, attacked the press, mocked the impeachment process and bashed Minneapolis congresswoman Ilhan Omar and the city’s “rotten” DFL mayor.

The Republican president’s highly anticipated rally, in the heart of a longtime Democratic stronghold, drew supporters from all around the state who lined up many hours in advance. Trump also drew protesters who filled city streets following the president’s spat with Mayor Jacob Frey over the $530,000 security bill for the event.

Singling out audience members with “Cops for Trump” T-shirts, which a group of Minneapolis police officers donned after they were prohibited from wearing uniforms, Trump touted support for law enforcement.

“There’s a lot of beautiful T-shirts in the audience and I’ll tell you why. Cops love Trump, Trump loves cops,” Trump said. He also slung an insult at Frey without naming him: “You’ve got a rotten mayor, you’ve got to change your mayor.”

With Vice President Mike Pence and leading Minnesota Republicans on hand, Trump’s re-election rally served as the clearest evidence yet of the state’s importance to next year’s presidential election. It’s shaping up as the most concerted Republican effort in years to carry Minnesota in a presidential race, which hasn’t happened since 1972.

“He’s a guy who likes to collect trophies, and there’s no bigger trophy for him than flipping the state with the longest record of voting for Democrats for president,” said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which used Trump’s rally as fundraising and organizing fodder. “This is personal for him.”

The stop in Minneapolis was Trump’s first re-election rally since House Democrats accelerated their push for impeachment over concerns raised by an intelligence community whistleblower that the president has pressured foreign governments to investigate a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The do-nothing Democrat con artists and scammers are getting desperate,” Trump said at Target Center. “They know they can’t win so they’re pursuing their insane impeachment witch hunt. I’ve been going through it now for more time than I’ve been in office.”

Going on at some length about the impeachment inquiry, Trump called the media dishonest and predicted that Democrats would “produce a backlash at the ballot box the likes of which we’ve never before seen in this country.” He went on at length about the impeachment inquiry, calling his phone call with the Ukraine leader “beautiful.”

Biden called for Trump’s impeachment for the first time this week. Earlier in the day the former vice president issued a statement calling Trump out “for his relentless attacks on the Affordable Care Act that have threatened the health care of millions of Minnesotans.”

Trump took time at the rally to hit back. “You know what, I’d love to run against him, to be honest,” Trump said. “If you can’t beat him in a debate, you’ve got a big problem, folks.” Biden was a good vice president “only because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass,” Trump said.

It was Trump’s fourth visit to Minnesota since he became president, following rallies for Republican congressional candidates in Rochester and Duluth last year, and a White House-hosted business roundtable in Burnsville earlier this year. But it was his first political rally in Minnesota’s largest city.

In 2016, Trump got just 18% of the vote in Minneapolis’ Fifth Congressional District, the political home of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first-term Somali-American congresswoman who has in recent months become a frequent subject of Trump’s Twitter insults.

Trump launched into an extended critique of Omar about 40 minutes into his speech, raising several controversies that have ensnared her in recent months. “How do you have such a person representing you in Minnesota? She is a disgrace to our country and she is one of the big reasons I am going to win.” He also called her “an America-hating socialist.”

As he prepared to board Air Force One on his way to Minnesota, Trump told reporters, “I think Omar is helping us win Minnesota and other places.” Two of Minnesota’s Republicans in Congress, Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber, accompanied the president on the plane ride.

Omar tweeted back at Trump on Thursday afternoon, noting a National Public Radio analysis that he has mentioned her name 29 times on Twitter.

“You know you’re standing up for progress when Trump can’t keep your name out of his mouth,” Omar tweeted. Her office said she would not be in Minnesota for Trump’s visit and would not disclose her location. Omar has previously accused Trump of endangering her life with his comments about her.

While Trump has little hope of carrying Minneapolis or Omar’s district in next year’s election, his campaign is poised to invest tens of millions of dollars in turning out voters in the 78 out of 87 counties he carried in 2016. Despite the geographic breadth of Trump’s win, Democrat Hillary Clinton notched a narrow win thanks to a lopsided advantage in the state’s largest cities and most populous suburbs.

The Minnesota DFL, after years of dominance on the statewide level, is positioned to keep up with the promised Republican investment in Minnesota. That’s likely to heighten the stakes not just for the presidential race but contests up and down the ballot in Minnesota.

Gloomy skies hung over downtown Minneapolis in the hours leading up to the president’s appearance. As night fell, protest crowds swelled as Trump supporters continued to stream into the 20,000-seat arena. Supporters and protesters at times passed shoulder to shoulder.

“This president doesn’t represent what I really feel that America is all about — caring for other people,” said Melissa Meyer-Thompson, 54, of Cannon Falls. She was holding a handmade sign that read, “Trump is not Minnesota Nice.”

As the arena filled up, early-comers were treated to remarks by Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, as well as Minneapolis police union leader Bob Kroll. “The mayor said the president wasn’t welcome, but the Police Federation of Minneapolis begged to differ,” Kroll said as a few dozen people in “Cops for Trump” T-shirts sat behind him in the VIP section.

Outside, protesters chanted and blew whistles. A balloon portraying Trump as an infant floated overhead.

Penny and Craig Siewert, both retirees from Cottage Grove, threaded through a gantlet of protesters to head inside for the rally. Penny said protesters had a right to be there but she felt they should have been a little more respectful.

Why do they support Trump? “He stands for most of the values I support,” Craig Siewert said.

Star Tribune staff writers Stephen Montemayor, Shannon Prather, Maya Rao and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.

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(c)2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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