If Democrats don’t win Minnesota’s second district, they won’t achieve a majority in the House – this was the message Democratic second district candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Angie Craig sent at her Sept. 28 campaign event in Northfield, Minnesota.
Democrats need to flip 24 seats in order to gain a majority in the House. However, the Cook Political Report indicates that only 15 races are competitive, while FiveThirtyEight characterizes 22 as close, meaning that Democrats face an uphill battle in regaining a majority.
One of these competitive races is taking place in Minnesota’s second district, of which Northfield and St. Olaf are a part. Republican incumbent Jason Lewis is running against Democratic candidate Angie Craig. The two ran against each other in 2016, when Lewis won by a mere 6,655 votes.
At St. Olaf, the race has generated varying degrees of conversation and activism. Kathryn Hinderaker ’19, the leader of the College Republicans at St. Olaf, said that although the club itself does not formally endorse Lewis, they have done volunteering, phone-banking and door-knocking for Lewis’ campaign and occasionally talk about him during their meetings.
Hinderaker sees Lewis’ aversion to political correctness as both his best and worst quality. She says that what she sees as the plus side of this quality is that he is honest and unfiltered and that he follows his own opinions, unafraid to side against people like Trump. However, on the flipside, she says that she finds it “hard to justify things he has said.”
In the past, Lewis hosted a radio show and has been under scrutiny during both of his elections for remarks he made on that show. One such remark that has recently come to the public’s attention is when he discussed the use of the word “slut.”
“It used to be that women were held to a little bit of a higher standard,” Lewis said. “We required modesty from women. Now, are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can’t call her a slut?”
Although Hinderaker says she does not support comments like these, she said “if we all had radio shows, we’d all have said stuff.” Hinderaker points out that “he’s not saying it from office,” which she believes shows he is still qualified.
Tristan Voegeli ’19, the leader of the College Democrats, says that his club “absolutely” endorses Craig “formally, informally, and in every possible way.” They have door-knocks, and many individuals in the club work for her campaign. He sees Craig’s focus on political issues and communication with her constituents as her biggest strengths, in addition to her not having “spent her career spitting offensive and bigoted rhetoric.”
“[Craig] has been spending these two years getting to know the people and problems of this district—unlike her opponent who refuses to hold town halls,” Voegeli said. He believes that her biggest weakness as a candidate is refusing to support a single-payer healthcare plan, to which he says she still has “a nuanced and well educated response.”
At her campaign event, Craig said that she instead supports an incremental approach to healthcare. She believes transitioning to single payer healthcare in the two years, as many Democrats are backing, would rush things.
Craig also discussed her reasons for running again, mentioning that she did not forsee or factor in the third party vote for Paula Overby in her own campaign.
Overby ran in the 2016 race as a candidate in the Independence party. She was formerly a Democrat, but then renounced her party affiliation because she got tired of the two party system and wanted to enact systematic reforms to the political process. This time around there will be no third-party candidate, which could potentially add to Craig’s overall vote share.
Craig says that she also realizes that because of Lewis’ radio host career, working for KTLK-FM and KSTP-AM in Minnesota as well as WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina, his name was more recognizable.
“What we had was a whole lot of uphill work last cycle to essentially introduce ourselves to voters,” Craig told the Minnesota Post. Craig believes that this time, with an awareness of these difficulties and more name recognition, her campaign will succeed in flipping the second district. Other sources have come to similar conclusions.
Indeed, polling from the , Cook Political Report and indicate that the district leans Democratic. Nonetheless, the margin of error on these polls show it is a close race.
Chris Chapp, Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Olaf College, is more hesitant to put much trust in claims that the district is likely to flip. He’s heard people say the district would flip for years, but each time it has remained red.
Chapp says that although he’s hesitant to say the district will turn blue, some of the angles Lewis’ campaign is taking have caught his attention. Lewis seems to be running in opposition to the Republican party, based on how he portrays himself in some of his ads. In his ad titled “Jason Lewis: Independent Voice for Minnesota,” he says “I’ve stood up to the Republicans on spending, warrantless wiretaps, and criminal justice reform,” a statement indicating that he’s trying to portray himself as less partisan. Generally in non-presidential races people vote based on the national picture, says Chapp, meaning that Lewis would be running as part of Trump’s broader appeal. This distancing, Chapp believes, could indicate that his campaign has access to inside polling that suggests voters may be trying to distance themselves from party politics, or from the Republican party. This distancing of Lewis’ campaign may be indicative of more negative public perceptions of Trump and of Republicans in general, and may show that Lewis could face some backlash for being in the same party.
Despite these angles Lewis is taking, Chapp is still hesitant to say Lewis is the underdog in the race. In the 2018 midterms Chapp says there is not the same energy and public attention that existed in 2016 which could drive down turnout for Democrats. Chapp also points out that there is no national figure for Democrats, while Trump remains the national figure for Republicans, which can often help secure votes or turn people out at the polls.
Craig said that despite Lewis’ moderate campaigning angle this election, voters should make no mistake — Lewis is not a moderate, and has not shown this tendency in his voting record. She pointed out that Lewis has a 96% voting record with congressional Republicans, and that he has been endorsed by the far-right Freedom Caucus. She says this shows that he is more far right than most Republicans, and that he would continue to follow the same voting record were he to be reelected. Lewis’ campaign could not be reached for comment.
Voegeli and Hinderaker, on whether they thought college students are actively involved and informed on the race, had different responses. Hinderaker said it’s been “on people’s radar,” which she said is “great no matter the side.” Voegeli, however, said students do not care about the race “as much as they should.” He says, “This is one of the closest races in the entire country, and one that every student should be incredibly fired up about.”