HIBBING, Minn. (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden urged Iron Range Democrats on Thursday to get out the vote for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, saying Republicans don't understand the needs of the middle class.
"Get out the vote. We cannot afford to lose this race. It's important," Biden implored the crowd at Hibbing Community College, estimated by the Nolan campaign at over 600.
Nolan, the incumbent, is locked in a tight race with GOP candidate Stewart Mills in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, which was long a traditional Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party stronghold but has become a swing district as redistricting has added more conservative territory near the Twin Cities. The race is one of the country's top five in terms of outside spending.
"This election really is going to be decided at the end of the day about who shows up to vote," Nolan said in his own speech to an audience that included many wearing jackets and hats bearing names of the region's mining and other unions.
Biden spoke mostly about the struggles of the middle class and drew parallels between the lives of the heavily blue-collar audience and growing up near Pennsylvania's mining country. He said the national economy is doing well now in "a macroeconomic sense," saying the stock market and employment rate are up and noting that Minnesota's jobless rate is below the national average.
"But guess what? Ordinary people aren't feeling it," he said. "Ordinary people aren't seeing it."
Biden said little about Mills, a wealthy businessman whose family started the Mills Fleet Farm chain of stores, but criticized Republicans at length as being out of touch. He said he doesn't question the motives of "the tea party guys and Rick's opponents."
"They don't understand where we grew up. They don't understand that the reason we have a middle class in America is because of unions," he said to cheers.
Nolan pointed out that tens of thousands of Democrats in the district stayed home in the 2010 midterm election, when Republican Chip Cravaack ousted longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar. Nolan retook the seat in 2012, buoyed by the high turnout of a presidential election year and ballot issues that drew Minnesota Democrats.
"Make sure that we've identified those people who didn't show up in 2010," Nolan said. "And all we have to do is get them out to vote, and we will win this election."
The district's airwaves have been full of attack ads from independent groups as Republicans try to increase their majority in the House and Democrats try to limit the damage.
Joyce Delich, of Bovey, said she thinks the pro-Nolan ads making fun of Mills for his long hair add some levity.
"I just think that they're funny," she said. "Nobody's paying attention."
But Dan Kingsley, of Hill City, who wore a shirt and baseball cap for Operating Engineers Local 49, dismissed the significance of the outside ads.
"It's politics. ... The people who do those ads get pretty carried away," he said.
Mills issued a statement Thursday that highlighted his efforts to tie Nolan to President Barack Obama's policies, from the health care overhaul to gun rights, and said bringing in Biden was the wrong move.
"Biden and Nolan see eye to eye on so many issues, but what they don't get is that those issues are completely out of touch with our Minnesota way of life," Mills said.