Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Minnesota Republican Lincoln Reagan Dinner Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in St. Paul, Minn. Credit: AP/Abbie Parr

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former President Donald Trump used a day off from his hush money trial Friday to headline a Republican fundraiser in Minnesota, a traditionally Democratic state that he boasts he can carry in November.

Trump took the stage late as he headlined the state GOP’s annual Lincoln Reagan dinner in St. Paul after attending his son Barron's high school graduation in Florida.

Declaring his appearance to be “an official expansion” of the electoral map of states that could be competitive in November, Trump said, “We’re going to win this state."

“This November the people of Minnesota are going to tell Crooked Joe Biden — right? ‘The Apprentice'? ’You’re fired!'” Trump said, referencing his former reality television show and the catchphrase he used on it.

Trump boasted that the steep tariffs he imposed on foreign steel while serving as president bought the Iron Range, the iron mining area of northeastern Minnesota, “roaring back to life.” The area, with a heavy population of blue-collar workers and union workers, used to be solidly Democratic, but the region has been trending Republican in recent elections.

He also made a profane attack on President Joe Biden, calling him “a horrible president” who is “destroying our country” and then adding, “He’s a horrible human being too.”

Trump then shifted to calling the president a “non-athlete” and attacked his golf game, accusing him of inflating his golfing abilities and making other misrepresentations before using an expletive that drew loud laughs and sustained applause.

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he returns to court...

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he returns to court after a lunch break, at Manhattan criminal court in New York, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. Credit: AP/ANGELA WEISS

Trump was using part of the day granted by the trial judge for the graduation to campaign in Minnesota, a state he argues he can win in the November rematch with Biden. No Republican presidential candidate has won Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972, but Trump came close to flipping the state in 2016, when he fell 1.5 percentage points short of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump returned to Minnesota several times in 2020, when Biden beat him by more than 7 percentage points.

“I think this is something Trump wants to do. He believes this is a state he can win. We believe that’s the case as well,” David Hann, the chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said in an interview.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota, a Biden ally, said the Trump campaign is “grasping at straws” if it thinks he can win the state.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, seated right with...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, seated right with Melania Trump and her father, Viktor Knavs, attends a graduation ceremony for his son Barron at Oxbridge Academy Friday, May 17, 2024, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

“The Biden campaign is going to work hard for every vote,” Smith said in an interview. “We’re going to engage with voters all over the state. But I think Minnesota voters are going to choose President Biden.”

Hann co-hosted Friday's dinner along with Trump’s state campaign chair, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who represents a central Minnesota district. Hann said Emmer was instrumental in bringing the former president to Minnesota.

The dinner coincided with the party’s state convention and the roughly 1,400 attendees included former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who has been a prominent promoter of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Tickets started at $500, ranging up to $100,000 for a VIP table for 10 with three photo opportunities with Trump. Hann declined to say how much money he expects it will raise, but he anticipates a full house of around 1,400 people.

All the money from the dinner tickets will go to the state party, Hann said, though he added that some money from photo opportunities may go to the Trump campaign. Ahead of Trump’s remarks Friday night, Emmer and Hann told the crowd that thanks to the fundraiser, the state party was out of debt for the first time in 10 years.

“No sham trial is going to keep President Trump off the campaign trail. And it’s definitely not going to stop us from turning Minnesota red in November," Emmer said in his remarks.

Experts are split on whether Minnesota really will be competitive this time, given its history and the strong Democratic Party ground game in the state. But Hann said there's “great dissatisfaction with President Biden” in the state, noting that nearly 19% of Democratic voters in its Super Tuesday primary marked their ballots for “uncommitted.” That was at least partly due to a protest-vote movement over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war that has spread to several states.

Trump on Friday night repeated a false claim that he won Minnesota in the 2020 election, wrongly declaring he won “a landslide in your state.”

There’s no evidence that there were any serious irregularities in the state.

Trump’s youngest son, Barron Trump, graduated Friday morning from the private Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. The former president, who attended the graduation with his wife, Melania Trump, and her father, Viktor Knavs, had long complained Judge Juan M. Merchan would not let him attend the graduation before Merchan agreed not to hold court Friday.

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