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Some Minnesota U.S. House races in national spotlight

Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Angie Craig will square off in November to represent the 2nd Congressional District, which includes most of south Washington County. (Submitted photos)

ST. PAUL—Two, perhaps three, of Minnesota's eight congressional races will attract plenty of national attention as control of the U.S. House is at stake in November.

Well-known Republican Jason Lewis' win in the 2nd Congressional District, in the southern Twin Cities and to the south, guaranteed that region will be in the spotlight as he takes on well-financed Democrat Angie Craig. Proving that was a blitz of statements from both sides in the minutes after Lewis was declared the winner in the Aug. 9 primary saying how disastrous the opponent would be in Congress.

The 8th Congressional District, in northeast and east-central Minnesota, long has been in the national sights. Republicans salivate over the hope that their Stewart Mills will upend Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

Another possible race of national importance popped up when Democratic state Sen. Terri Bonoff entered the 3rd Congressional District race against Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen. Until Bonoff got in, the race in the western Twin Cities was considered a Paulsen slam-dunk.

There were no primary contests in the 8th or 3rd districts and incumbent federal representatives who had opponents faced no problems in last week's election.

With no statewide races, other than one for Supreme Court, most activists' attention is turning to the U.S. House and state legislative races.

Voters showed little interest in the primary.

Secretary of State Steve Simon said about 7 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, a figure even more pitiful when compared to the 10 percent turnout of recent primaries, which political leaders already were saying was bad.

Simon said Minnesota can do better. He said turnout was low because of lack of statewide races and because it happened in August when people are not thinking politics. He long has been an advocate for a June primary.

But the political world belongs to those who show up, and those in the 2nd district like former talk radio host Lewis. He beat GOP challengers Darlene Miller, John Howe and Matt Erickson. Erickson lives in Cottage Grove.

"Naturally, the extreme left as well as political insiders will say I'm not politically correct," Lewis said. "They are right, I'm not. ... The stakes are too high for the usual red versus blue political gotcha games. The bottom line is this: After 20 years of having a conversation with Minnesotans, I will be the leader we know who will fight tirelessly for our shared values."

Craig said Lewis's problem is he talks instead of works.

"While I spent over two decades helping lead medical device manufacturing companies and creating meaningful jobs, Jason Lewis talked at people..." Craig said. "From calling young women 'non-thinking,' to suggesting victims of natural disasters are a bunch of 'whiners' to his twisted logic on slavery, it's no surprise that he wants to join the group of extremists in the Freedom Caucus who shut down the government."

Other supporters from both sides issued even stronger statements after the election.

Said state GOP Chairman Keith Downey: "Angie Craig is so far left you can't even see her from the 2nd District."

The Cook Political Report, a respected national observer of all things politics, said that Lewis' win helps Democrats.

In the race to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, Cook says that Lewis "and his long history of provocative statements make Democratic healthcare executive Angie Craig a slight favorite to flip a key swing seat." Cook had called the race a toss-up until seeing primary returns.

Cook also notes that Craig had $1.8 million in the bank at the end of June compared to $104,000 for Lewis.

In 2014, national Republican had hopes of ending Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's tenure, and spent money to help state Sen. Torrey Westrom compete against the incumbent, but it appears neither party will spend national resources on the race this year. The 7th Congressional District, encompassing all of western and part of central Minnesota, has been Peterson's for nearly 26 years.

Dave Hughes appeared optimistic after he won the GOP 7th District primary, and like those who went before tried to tie Peterson to the woman conservatives love to hate, liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

But the Republican who finished second in the 7th District primary expects Peterson to win again.

"After this primary, I agree with Democrats: This district is safely Democratic for Congress," Amanda Lynn Hinson said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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