The general election match to replace Rep. John Kline in Minnesota’s Second District is officially down to two candidates: Democrat Angie Craig and Republican Jason Lewis.
Yesterday, Lewis — his party’s endorsed candidate — locked up the nomination with a strong showing in which he soundly dispatched three challengers.
With most precincts reporting as of Wednesday morning, Lewis, a former radio host from Woodbury, earned nearly half (48.9 percent) of the 23,500–plus votes cast on primary day. That was more than enough to beat his best-funded and most serious challenger, Burnsville business owner Darlene Miller, who took about a third of the vote.
Former Red Wing mayor and state senator John Howe got about 14 percent, while Matt Erickson, who ran as an explicit pro-Donald Trump candidate, got about 7 percent.
Ahead of the primary, close observers of CD2 were predicting a low turnout contest that could have broken for either Lewis or Miller.
Backers of Miller, who was endorsed by Kline, believed she was gaining ground as the primary neared, and her campaign hammered Lewis in ads and mailers in hopes that she could encourage a wider swath of Republican voters to turn out.
In the end, turnout was relatively high — over 4,500 more voters showed up yesterday than did in Kline’s contested 2014 primary — but those voters broke for Lewis, not Miller.
The general election battle between Lewis and Craig will command the attention of both parties on a national level. CD2 is a true swing district — Kline has won re-election here easily in elections even when President Barack Obama, Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar also carried the district.
It should be an intense and acrimonious contest, too: As soon as Lewis won, each side was out with dueling statements accusing the other candidate of being a radical partisan who is out of touch with Minnesota values.
Craig, an Eagan native and a former executive at St. Jude Medical, is a first-time candidate, and Republicans will be making the case that she is too liberal for this swingy district.
Meanwhile, Lewis’ two decades in talk radio and penchant for stoking controversy, particularly his comments on women, slavery, and race relations, will be a focus for Democrats, who have already begun linking him with Trump, who is not especially popular in this corner of Minnesota.
Democrats really want this seat to turn blue, and they begin the general election with a cash advantage: Craig has $1.7 million on hand, while Lewis had about $100,000 in the bank two weeks before the primary.
While Lewis won the party’s endorsement, a good number of CD2 Republicans believe he is not well-positioned to beat Craig — indeed, that was a big reason for Miller’s late entry into the race.
On Wednesday morning, at least one political prognosticator backed that up. The Cook Political Report, which rates the competitiveness of congressional races, changed CD2’s status from a toss-up; they now handicap it as “lean Democrat,” saying that in Lewis, the GOP got the weakest general election candidate.