What Republicans need to learn from the Iron Range GOP

The blue-collar vote doesn’t like the far left, but they don’t yet trust the GOP to actually carry their interests.

Iron Range
The St. Louis County GOP's campaign headquarters in Ely, Minn. (Photo courtesy of St. Louis County GOP)

With the first legislative session now behind us since the midterms, the MNGOP is doing some soul searching. Nov. 8, 2022, is a date that few Republican activists will want to relive. But there was one place in Minnesota that managed to buck the huge raspberry that was midterm election night for the statewide GOP.

That place was the Iron Range. There, in the land of DFL giants like Tommy Rukavina, Tom Bakk, and David Tomassoni, the local GOP managed to show the rest of the MNGOP, indeed, the national GOP, what it will take to actually be an America First, working class, majority political party.

Too often since the advent of the blue-collar populists under President Trump, the GOP, statewide and nationally, has thought they could make verbal burps about “workers” and “America First” while continuing to push the policies of yesteryear that many in our floundering middle and working classes have soundly rejected for decades. On the Iron Range, our candidates did more than talk. They actually sought the bare bones needs of the working class and now we are sending Republicans to St. Paul for the first time in living memory.

This was not done by compromising our principles, but by realizing that principles are not the same thing as policy. The candidates campaigned on the issues of the region that would tangibly and directly affect the voters. One of the biggest issues was the proposed copper-nickel mine in the eastern part of the Range. Our candidates were universally pro-New Range Copper Nickel mine (formerly Polymet). But that was an easy issue.

The GOP nationally is very receptive to mines but struggles with union miners. Republicans scratch their head at laborers who back Democrats who then pass massive restrictions on mining or other industries. But the issue isn’t hard. The union miners see the GOP as anti-worker. It is not lost on them that Republicans, historically, are much more likely to use their political clout to back corporate tax cuts than to help struggling workers with their retirements or cut the power of their unions with “right-to-work” laws while cheering massive monopolies that are leaving small communities high and dry. The Republicans (Lincoln for one) of the past didn’t balk at struggling workers, and we can’t either.

The conservative talking heads will debate these assertions until they are blue in the face. But the fact is that the Iron Range GOP saw the union workers as a potential voting bloc and met them where they are. The miners are, after all, mostly very traditional in their lifestyles, and want good educations and prospects for their children; they aren’t very “woke,” and have a genuine love for their country and communities. The Iron Range GOP saw this and changed their policy (not principles). All the candidates denounced (rightfully) right-to-work laws, and legislation cutting things that miners depend on like Social Security and Medicare.

Just as important, the candidates actively sought union endorsements and almost all of them were endorsed by at least one labor union, some by several, including Teamsters, 49s and others. The Republicans of our day have this strange notion that by simply putting our platforms out into the ether, people will hear them and come crawling to vote for them. But people respond to people who show up, who relate to them and their problems and offer real, relevant solutions to the problems they see. This is what the Iron Range GOP offered.

They rejected anti-union rhetoric and policies that would directly hurt the working class, like privatizing Social Security (a national issue, yes, but a very important one to the workers). In many ways, they more closely resembled the Republicans of Abraham Lincoln; pro-worker, pro-American industry (including tariffs), and pro-higher wages. This author will save the arguments for these policies for another piece, but the MNGOP needs to heed this advice. If you wonder how supposed “Ultra MAGA” candidates lost awfully in blue-collar states like Pennsylvania, you would do well to look at these candidates’ positions on the policies described here.

Certainly there is more work to be done. The trickle of support has yet to be undammed into a raging river. There is still a lot of trust to be built and earned. But the formula is there and it is strong. And not just on the Range. The union halls of the metro, and other large cities are likely full of rank and file members just waiting for change that they can trust. The blue-collar vote doesn’t like the far left, but they don’t yet trust the GOP to actually carry their interests. Are we ready to make the big changes to the party and our policies to herald in a new majority coalition?

Jacob Giese is the Vice Chair for Media at the St. Louis County GOP.


Jacob Giese

Jacob Giese is the Vice Chair for Media at the St. Louis County GOP.