Welcome to This Week in Campaign Coverage, a weekly roundup of notable 2018 election reporting from Greater Minnesota. Look for it every Wednesday until Election Day.
As we hurtle towards the primaries, and in my last weeks here as an intern at MinnPost, campaign coverage only continues to increase. In this past week, we’ve seen reverberations form the #MeToo movement play out in the political sphere, an intense focus on appealing to rural Minnesota, and some unorthodox voter engagement efforts.
The big story
Rep. Jason Lewis, dubbed “Minnesota’s Mini-Trump” and running for re-election in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, once again faced consequences from comments he made as a conservative radio show host. CNN’s KFile resurfaced inflammatory audio clips in which Lewis comments on female modesty and claims that African Americans have an “entitlement mentality.” That story was followed up by The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, USA Today, TIME, and Refinery29, among others. Lewis seems to be unfazed. On The Chad Hartman Show, he said: “Look, a rhetorical discussion about the cultural changes and whether we can hold anyone, male or female, to standards made for an interesting hour, made for an interesting rhetorical discussion. That’s what you’re supposed to do on talk radio. And if you’re provocative when you do it, well, that’s part of our job.” A reminder that the CD2 race is expected to close — and very expensive.
As the race for Minnesota attorney general revs up, it can sometimes be hard to keep the candidates straight, especially when they all tend to say the same thing … including about how unique they are as a candidate. On the DFL side, Debra Hilstrom stopped in Mankato to talk about recent flooding in central Minnesota, while Mike Rothman hit Albert Lea, Austin, Winona, and the Fillmore County Fair in Preston to talk about the opioid crisis; financial abuse of senior citizens; and other rural issues. Tom Foley, meanwhile, talked to the Winona Daily News, a paper he used to deliver while growing up in Wabasha. In his conversation there, he calls Ellison “a little too extreme” for Greater Minnesota. And — like pretty much everyone in the race — he promised to protect consumers, fight the opioid epidemic, and provide affordable health care.
Speaking of Ellison: He talked to the Spokesman-Recorder and also visited Brainerd and St. Cloud. When asked what his biggest impact on the African American community would be as attorney general, Ellison told the Spokesman-Recorder: “An aggressive AG looking out for all citizens, including the Black community, is going to have the impact of having more money in the pockets of those families and also citizens.” For the St. Cloud Times, Nora Hertel noted: “He supports a number of reforms including: allowing felons to vote, decriminalizing marijuana, training police on de-escalation and implicit bias. He supports drug courts and wants to treat addiction as a medical, rather than a law enforcement, problem.”
And let’s not forget the DFL-endorsed candidate, Matt Pelikan, who seeks to make the AG office more progressive.
On the GOP side, Doug Wardlow says he’s made more than 300 stops in Greater Minnesota so far, including recent stops in Glencoe, McLeod and Hutchinson. When asked by the Hutchinson Leader if there were outstanding regulations that need to be addressed, Wardlow had a very specific answer: “water discharge standards that are highly problematic.” He also said a big priority would be, “coordinating the investigation of and prosecuting welfare fraud. The attorney general’s office is the only state official with the authority to prosecute welfare fraud. The folks in charge of the office of the attorney general have not been doing that. So that needs to be done.”
Last but not least, 87-year-old Robert Lessard told MPR that he is running because he believes the Legacy Amendment, which he successfully pushed for 10 years ago, is under attack by legislators.
A recent article by our own Sam Brodey — about Nolan and his deputies’ response to allegations of sexual harassment by a former top aide to Nolan — has disrupted the entire governor’s race. Since the article was published, other DFL candidates have condemned Nolan in his response to the actions of his former legislative director, Jim Swiderski. Erin Murphy said Nolan “enabled a predator,” and Tim Walz called his actions an “inexcusable failure of leadership.” After a day of silence, Nolan’s running mate, Lori Swanson, defended him, saying “Congressman Nolan has a long, effective, and distinguished track record representing Minnesota and has fought for gender equality throughout his entire career.”
Like all the candidates, Rep. Tim Walz has been talking a lot about rural Minnesota. Unlike most candidates, he’s still a member of the U.S. House, and on July 18th, he unveiled The Small Town and Regional Vitality Investment Act, which would dedicate an $10 billion dollars to towns with 30,000 people or less, aiding in affordable housing and other programs like substance abuse treatment. Walz also spent some time in Winona.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Jeff Johnson talked to the West Central Tribune in Willmar about Trump’s tariffs; his reasoning behind his desire to suspend Minnesota’s refugee settlement program, and the divide between Greater Minnesota and the metro area. As Shelby Lindrud writes, “Johnson wants to see fairer funding formulas used for things like education, local government aid and transportation, which he said seem to have become more metro-focused over the years. He also wants more geographic diversity for transportation funding, where greater Minnesota gets an equal share of the funding.”
In the race for the Senate seat currently occupied by Tina Smith, DFLer Richard Painter visited Alexandria and Moorhead, where the former Republican decried Trump and his tariffs. Smith, meanwhile, says she would focus on health care if elected.
Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn recently spent some time in Houston county, where he talked about protecting farmers from Trump’s tariffs. He told the Caledonia Argus, “We want to try to protect [farmers’] prices and to help lower their costs. We need to get back to focusing on the farmer and protect our rural economy and our rural way of life.”
Five candidates running in the DFL primary held a 2-hour debate in Brainerd last Monday, so here’s your chance to watch Jason Metsa, Kirsten Hagan Kennedy, Michelle Lee, Soren Sorensen, and Joe Radinovich duke it out.
The week ahead
Senate candidates Smith, Painter and Karin Housley have all agree to appear at a candidate forum at Farm Fest on Aug. 7, but Painter is also doing some novel voter outreach, like hosting an 8-hour facebook live Q&A session this Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Meanwhile, in CD3 Erik Paulsen and Dean Phillips are set to debate August 21st, though it will cost you a hefty $60 if you want to attend.