The 8th Congressional District was, as expected, the brightest spot for Minnesota Republicans on election night. Pete Stauber will be the district’s next congressman, beating DFLer Joe Radinovich 51 to 45 percent to replace retiring DFL Rep. Rick Nolan. Independence Party candidate Skip Sandman captured 4 percent of the vote.
The race was considered a toss-up from its start. While Radinovich hammered the health care issue, Stauber stayed on focused on jobs and the economy. “Tonight you voted to unleash the economic engine in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District,” he told his supporters who had gathered in Proctor.
The 8th District, which covers nearly the entire northeastern third of Minnesota, was won by President Donald Trump by 15 points in 2016. It appears that Stauber maintained a fraction of that support in 2018, which he acknowledged was part of his victory margin. “I think the intensity for our president is as good if not better than on election night,” Stauber said to a group of reporters. “He’s done some really good things. Our jobs and economy are up. Our small businesses and manufacturing are doing very well.”
Contributing equally if not more to Stauber’s victory was his local bona fides. With a civically active family and his solid reputation as a St. Louis County commissioner and a commander in the Duluth police department, Stauber seemed to have a half-degree separation from any given voter in the district. “I knew the family,” was the phrase most often used in voter interviews on election day.
Health care was the top concern of Mary Verhel of Duluth, but she also voted for Stuaber. “I have strong opinions about issues, particularly health care. But I know the family,” she said. “I voted for Stauber because I didn’t like the way his opponents were presenting him.”
Stauber also benefited from a massive influx of independent spending in support of his campaign, most of it negative ads aimed at Radinovich, who had a history of unpaid parking tickets and traffic violations.
The revelation that Stauber briefly had used the St. Louis County email system to communicate with national Republicans could have stopped some of his campaign’s momentum. But the email disclosure came after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had pulled its independent spending and diverted its resources to other races.
Democrats will have control of the U.S. House in January and Stauber will find himself in the minority. Not a problem, he said last night. “Somebody’s got to be in the minority. Somebody has to be in the majority,” he said. “I prided myself my entire life working across the aisle. I said on the campaign trail I was not only to going to reach across the aisle, I was going to get up and walk over and build relations for the betterment of this country.”
Stauber was asked how he can maintain the voter support he won last night. “Northern Minnesota is the tip of the heartland and we care for one another,” he said. “I’m not going to be working just for Republicans. I’m going to be working for every single citizen in the 8th Congressional District.”
Stauber will need to prove that contention. Though the district has been trending Republican in recent years, it still has a long legacy of electing Democrats, and the results of this race suggest another battle two years from now.