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Nine Washington stories that will matter for Minnesota in 2020

From election outcomes to congressional committee assignments, a look at the stories that will play a big role in our coverage from Washington in the coming year.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaking at the Iowa State Fair on August 10.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential run is banking on a strong showing at the Iowa Caucuses.
Gone is the news-devoid year of 2019.

Now, we move on to 2020, where we’ll deal with a presidential election, several congressional races, and a reshuffling of congressional leadership. Minnesota has a big role to play on the national stage. Here are the nine stories I expect to play a big role in our coverage from Washington in the coming year.

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1. Win, lose, or retire? Then what? 

As the saying goes, “When Collin Peterson retires, so go the sugarbeets.”

That’s almost certainly not a saying, but the sugarbeet industry is extremely worried about an impending retirement from Chair of the Agriculture Committee. Peterson has guided the sugarbeet industry through several Farm Bills, the definitive Ag policy bill.

Sugarbeet industry executives are committing to a Super PAC in order to protect Peterson from any potential challengers. Peterson losing his seat means Minnesota will lose its only member currently chairing a committee. And should he lose, it also means there will be a new member representing the Seventh District: either someone being supported by Republican officials out in Washington D.C. or someone else.

Peterson still hasn’t committed to running for re-election in 2020. If Peterson stays on and defeats his Republican challengers, does he wait to write the next Farm Bill? Will his seat even still exist? Should the 2020 Census should Minnesota’s population growth as slower than the rest, then the answer could be no.

2. Betty McCollum’s rise to power

While Minnesota could lose its only current committee chair, it could also gain one. Rep. Betty McCollum serves as the Chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. But Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), the current Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, has said he will retire next year. McCollum is the next in line on that committee, in terms of seniority, to take his place. Defense means managing a large and often more contentious funding allocation.

At the same time, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the current Chair of the entire Appropriations Committee, is set to retire. McCollum has also indicated she may seek out the position of Appropriations Chair, one of the most critically important in the House. That means negotiating (and preventing) government shutdowns and managing the entire process of Federal funding bills.

3. America’s Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters was supposed to be a local issue. Was. This year, almost every Democratic presidential candidate in the race has weighed in on it, saying copper-nickel mining in the region should be banned. At the same time, Minnesota’s own home state senator has not made that same declaration. The granddaughter of an iron ore miner, Klobuchar’s own story hinges on supporting miners and she’s been cautious in not running up against potential copper-nickel mining projects in the area. 

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

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4. Al Franken’s return to the public eye

Sen. Al Franken was accused by nine women of sexual harassment and groping. He’s since resigned, but he hasn’t faded into obscurity. With a podcast and a speaking tour around the country, Franken is doing what he said in his resignation speech: “I’m not giving up my voice.”

But this raises questions. What will Franken do with all of the money sitting in his Leadership PAC? And for those most impacted by Franken’s actions, what would forgiveness and a return to the public eye actually look like?

5. Tom Emmer NRCC postmortem 

The Sixth District’s Rep. Tom Emmer is the Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Theoretically, House Republicans win or lose with his support (or lack of it). 2020 means we get to see how his strategy is paying off. For one, the NRCC has been calling Democrats names like “deranged.” They’ve also been implying Jewish candidates in competitive districts are antisemitic. 

At the same time, what questions will be left for Emmer once he’s finished out the 2020 cycle? If he’s successful in winning Republicans some House seats, that may mean moving up in Republican leadership. And if not, well, that could well mean the opposite.

6. A rematch in the First District

Rep. Jim Hagedorn, Dan Feehan
Rep. Jim Hagedorn, challenger Dan Feehan
Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota’s First won in 2018 by 1,300 votes. His previous challenger, DFLer Dan Feehan, is running again. And for the most part, for a district that’s hinging on a very small number of votes, Hagedorn has not moderated his positions. At most, he’s tried to handle a balancing act: supporting the district’s industries that are hardest hit by the trade war, but remaining steadfastly supportive of President Trump.

Does the First District want someone like Hagedorn, who strongly backs President Trump, possibly to the point where it might go against the interests of the district? Or do they want a Democrat who criticizes the president, but without as much access to the White House (should Trump win re-election)? What other factors are at play in the race? For example, what will the ethanol and agriculture industries in the district decide?

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7. Which Republican will take on Angie Craig? 

Rep. Angie Craig in Minnesota’s Second is supposedly in a very competitive district this cycle. So why haven’t Republicans in the state and in Washington come out swinging for a challenger?

Rick Olson, the only Republican currently running in the district, told MinnPost he believes in finding solutions to climate change. He also says he would have voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

Republicans have not coalesced around a specific candidate in the district, but they have been spending a lot of money like they’re going to. Who exactly is going to run against Angie Craig? And why have Republicans waited so long to announce that person?

8. All eyes on Minnesota

In 2016, the Trump campaign only spent $30,000 on Minnesota. The end result was Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton eking out a win with 46.44 percent to Trump’s 44.92 percent. Put in raw votes, that’s 1,367,716 to 1,322,951.

This time around, the Trump campaign has said it intends to spend tens of millions of dollars to win the state. A Republican hasn’t won at the top of the ticket in Minnesota since 1972 (Richard Nixon). How about this time around? If Trump can flip the state, does that mean he brings Republican candidates lower on the ballot, like Jason Lewis who is running for Senate, along with him?

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump departing a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 20, 2018.
At the same time, Democrats seem poised to spend big. Sen. Bernie Sanders won Minnesota in 2016. Of the few polls that have been done in the state, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is currently polling at the top. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar, it can be assumed, still wants to win her home state in a Presidential election.

9. The Senator Next Door 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential run is banking on a strong showing at the Iowa Caucuses. She has the majority of her campaign staff there. A significant number of offices. And perhaps more poignantly, she has very little investment in other states. Iowa may not make or break her campaign, but it’s certainly the state she’s betting on.

While her Iowa poll numbers have improved over time, as of publication they were sitting (on average) at around 6 percent. Can she seek out a more significant placement in the Caucus or is the state South of Minnesota at the end of the campaign trail for Minnesota’s Senior Senator?