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Trump gives public boost to Minnesota GOP hopefuls

President Donald Trump makes his entrance at a Make America Great Again rally inside the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minn., Oct. 4, 2018. Trump has a fundraiser and a campaign rally scheduled here as the Senate advances toward a vote on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. Tom Brenner / The New York Times / Copyright 2018

ROCHESTER, Minn.—President Donald Trump publicly endorsed several Minnesota Republicans during his visit to Rochester on Thursday, Oct. 4, underscoring the White House's focus on the state as a political battleground in the high-stakes midterm elections.

Trump threw his support behind Republican congressional candidate Jim Hagedorn, U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, U.S. Senate candidate Karin Housley and other federal and state candidates during a raucous rally at the Mayo Civic Center, his second visit to Minnesota this year.

State Republicans hope the president's visit will galvanize GOP voters and give the party's candidates a last-minute boost heading into the November election. Democrats, meanwhile, responded to the rally with a day of campaigning in Rochester.

"We're just five weeks away from one of the most important congressional elections in our lifetime," Trump said. "I need your support to stop radical Democrats and to elect proud Minnesota Republicans."

Trump praised Lewis and Hagedorn for their support of his agenda and lobbed insults at their respective Democratic opponents, Angie Craig and Dan Feehan, for their stances on health care and other issues.

The two Minnesota Republicans appeared on stage during the rally; Lewis touted Trump's federal tax overhaul and judicial appointments, and Hagedorn told the crowd he would serve as a "conservative reinforcement" to the president if elected to Congress.

Both Hagedorn and Lewis are locked in tight congressional races. Hagedorn is mounting his third bid to represent the 1st District after suffering back-to-back losses against U.S. Rep. Tim Walz — who vacated the seat to run for governor. His contest against Feehan, an Army combat veteran and former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, is considered a toss-up.

Lewis is seeking re-election in the south suburban 2nd District, a closely divided political battleground where voters frequently split tickets between Republicans and Democrats. This is his second race against Craig, whom he defeated by less than 2 percentage points in 2016.

Craig responded to Trump's criticism in a video posted to Twitter later in the evening: "I just heard that Donald Trump wants to know who the hell I am. Well, I'm a business leader, I'm a mom of four and I'm the woman who's going to turn this district blue in 33 days."

Trump also voiced his support for Housley, who spoke alongside Trump during the rally. He slammed her opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, as a "far-left Democrat."

"Tina Smith, that nobody ever heard of, needs to be voted out of office. She got appointed, I guess," Trump said.

Smith, who was sworn into office after Al Franken resigned from the job amid sexual misconduct allegations, has led Housley in most polls.

She, too, responded on Twitter later in the evening.

"Hey there, @realdonaldtrump. Tina here. Wanted to let you know that I will ALWAYS stand up for Minnesotans in the Senate. Unlike my opponent, who literally said in an interview yesterday she will be your "rubber stamp" — even when it hurts Minnesota," Smith tweeted.

Other candidates endorsed by Trump on Thursday include Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer from Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District, as well as gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson and attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow.

The president has now backed Republican candidates in five of Minnesota's eight U.S. House races.

He stumped for Pete Stauber, who's running to represent the 8th District in northeast Minnesota, during a rally in Duluth in June. And last month, he tweeted his support of Dave Hughes, who is challenging longtime U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson in the 7th District.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said she believes Trump's visit will reinforce support for the party's federal and state candidates.

"I think it shows that the White House and the president understand how critical Minnesota is towards our national landscape and Republicans maintaining the majority," Carnahan said.

Minnesota Democrats responded to Trump's Rochester rally by campaigning throughout the city.

Feehan, the Democrat running against Hagedorn in the 1st District, spent the day door-knocking with DFL lieutenant governor candidate Peggy Flanagan and Julie Blaha, who's running for state auditor. The three candidates spoke to roughly 130 people at one of the party's regional offices before fanning out across Rochester to engage voters.

"We felt that instead of spending a lot of time and energy trying to protest Donald Trump, we would just turn that energy that we have into actually communicating directly with voters. And letting them know the difference in values between the Republican and Democratic parties," said Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin.

Martin added that he doesn't think Trump's endorsements will give Republicans an edge over Democrats in November.

"I can tell you, particularly in the 1st District given his tariffs and how disproportionately they're impacting communities ... there's not a lot of love for Donald Trump in southern Minnesota," Martin said.