The Terrible Mini-Trump of Minnesota–and the Progressive Who’s Running Against Him

Jon Wiener, The Nation, September 2, 2016

They call him “Minnesota’s mini-Trump”: Jason Lewis, the right-wing talk-show host who’s running for Congress for an open Republican seat in the suburbs south of the Twin Cities, the 2nd Congressional District. It’s the same seat Bill Maher targeted two years ago in his “Flip-a-district” campaign–only then it was held by a six-term Republican incumbent named John Kline. Maher’s effort didn’t work; Kline was reelected.

But in April 2015, Democrat Angie Craig announced that she would challenge him in the next election–she’s a heath-care executive who had never run for office, and a lesbian mother of four–and then in September 2015 Kline said he wasn’t running again. Obama had carried the district in 2008 and 2012 and Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar had both won there–Franken narrowly, Klobuchar easily–making it one of the few genuine swing districts in the country. That’s why the Democrats are making a major effort to flip it this time around.

Jason Lewis is the Republicans’ gift to the DFL (the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party,” as the Democrats call themselves in Minnesota). Two decades of ranting on the radio (he quit in 2014) have provided a gold mine of Trumpish material for his opponent. He’s complained about white race “suicide,” pointing out that Latinos have a higher birth rate; he’s complained about single women, who, he says, “vote on the issue of somebody else buying their diaphragm” (i.e., including reproductive health coverage as part of Obamacare). He’s what you might call a crazy libertarian: “if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t,” he said. “But don’t tell other people they can’t” (i.e., the government shouldn’t tell people what to do with their lives). There’s lots more like that–and voters in the district are now learning all about it.

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The caucus results from Super Tuesday last March have some ominous implications for Jason Lewis. More people took part in the Democratic caucuses in the district than in the Republican ones–20,000 to 16,000. In the district’s Republican caucuses, Donald Trump came in third; Marco Rubio was the winner (he also carried the statewide GOP vote). Maybe that’s why Lewis has said only that he is supporting “the top of the [Republican] ticket” without mentioning Trump by name. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press pointed out, “That’s a step back from last October, when at a debate Lewis declared that he’s ‘not afraid of Donald Trump as some of my friends in the establishment are.’” And in the Republican primary in August, Lewis did not get the endorsement of the seven-term GOP incumbent who was retiring–John Kline endorsed a more moderate candidate, and has not endorsed Lewis in his contest with Craig.

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The first polls show that both candidates are fairly unknown. Each candidate has released one poll. In both, slightly more than half of likely voters have heard of Lewis, and slightly less than half have heard of Craig. Lewis is somewhat better known apparently because of his radio show and because the GOP primary, unlike the DFL one, was contested and thus made the news. Many who had heard of the two candidates told they pollsters they didn’t know enough to have an opinion. That’s not surprising; usually, most voters don’t pay attention to politics until after Labor Day. In this crazy season, however, the voters in the district do know what they think about the presidential candidates: According to Craig’s polling, 42 percent support Clinton and 35 support Trump, with Gary Johnson at 13 and Jill Stein at 5. (Lewis didn’t release figures on Clinton and Trump from his poll.) The nonpartisan Cook Political Report and nonpartisan analyst Stuart Rothenberg both rate the district as likely to “lean Democratic” this November.

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