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 approach the end of July (and the Aug. 14 primary), political candidates across Minnesota are getting more aggressive about campaigning — and about taking shots at their opponents. Meanwhile, the importance of Minnesota in this election cycle is being borne out by the numbers: specifically, the number of dollars being spent by so-called outside groups (i.e. PACs, super-PACs, and so-called “dark money” organizations). In fact, more than $20 million in outside money has already been spent, which is second only to California. And — for better or worse — it’s only the beginning.
Last election cycle, the race for the U.S. House between Rep. Rick Nolan and Stewart Mills was one of the most expensive House races in the country. History could repeat itself, as both GOP candidate Pete Stauber and DFL candidate Joe Radinovich — who is just one of several major DFL candidates running in the Aug. 14 primary — recently touted big fundraising numbers, writes Brady Slater in the Duluth News Tribune. Over the course of the past year, Stauber has raised $830,000, and now has more than $414,000 on hand, while Radinovich raised over $180,000 from April-June. Of course, if you really want to dive into the numbers, you should look at MinnPost’s campaign finance dashboard, which recently posted updated data for all U.S. House candidates in Minnesota.
Minnesota Attorney General
As the most prominent figure in the AG’s race, Keith Ellison tends to overshadowing other candidates, writes MPR’s Tim Pugmire, a fact underlined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders stumping on behalf of Ellison last week. In fact, more than 1,500 people packed into First Avenue to watch Sanders speak, followed by rallies in Duluth and Eau Claire (?), reported FOX 9. Sanders played to his personal strengths in his big speech, noted the AP’s Kyle Potter, while MinnPost’s own Peter Callaghan called the Minneapolis speech an “enthusiasm-raiser.” And it wasn’t so different in Duluth, where Ellison and Sanders appeared at Denfeld High School, writes Jack Nissen for the Duluth News Tribune. “It was Keith Ellison’s rally Friday at Denfeld High School, but it was the man joining him that many came out to see.”
Meanwhile, another DFL AG candidate has been making the rounds, touting her unique resume as both a lawyer and a state lawmaker: “The job of the Attorney General is to make sure no one is too big to be above the law, and no one is too small to be protected by the law,” Debra Hilstrom told The Marshall Independent’s Deb Gau, a line Hilstrom likes so much that she also said it to the Brainerd Dispatch and, yes, MinnPost.
In an interview with the Rochester Post-Bulletin’s Brian Todd earlier this month, Karin Housley, GOP-endorsed candidate for the US senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Tina Smith, was asked how she was different than Smith — and President Donald Trump. Among other things, Housley said Smith was “like a puppet” and that she disagreed with the administration’s family separation policy at the border. She also said the most recent version of the travel ban was “a good idea”; that she liked Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh; and that “Maybe [Trump] shouldn’t Tweet everything.” Then, in St. Cloud, Housley argued that 2018 is “the year Minnesota’s turning red.”
Meanwhile, a lesser-known GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, Bob Anderson — a dental technician from Eden Prairie — has been busy visiting smaller towns throughout Greater Minnesota, and he told the Le Center Leader about the three issues he’s homing in on: making insurance premiums more affordable; establishing a two-term limit for “career politicians”; and improving mental health care. “‘…I want to end the stigma around treatment,’” he told writer Ashley Murtha. “Anderson said he came to the Republican Party during the 2016 election of President Donald Trump and he continues to support the president. He likes that Trump is never on the fence about any issues.”
In the other race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who’s seeking her third term in the office, ate “spamples” during her Spam museum tour, a visit that was part of a swing through southern Minnesota in early July. Noah Smith at Agricultural News reports: “The senator also found some time to talk farm bill, to which she contributed several provisions in order to provide farmers with insurance, create animal disease and weather disaster programs and increase support for dairy farmers. She also introduced a number of amendments to the Senate-passed text, regarding renewable energy, broadband internet and incentivizing beginning farmers.”
The issue of health care is a big one in the CD2 race between GOP Rep. Jason Lewis and Angie Craig, who have exchanged biting words and finger pointing over the issue. “It’s what every single individual that I talk to brings up to me as the first or second concern in their family,” Craig told MPR’s Mark Zdechlik. For the record, Lewis blames Obamacare for making health care more expensive and less accessible, while Craig blames Republicans for failing to come up with any fixes.
Speaking of health care, DFL-endorsed candidate Erin Murphy often touts her support for single-payer government-provided health care. A former executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association and a registered nurse, Murphy has recently been advocating for her plan during stops in Winona, Rochester, Brainerd, and Mankato. “Murphy’s plan to move toward a single-payer health care system involves offering MinnesotaCare, the state’s public option insurance program, on health insurance exchanges,” writes Trey Mewes at the Mankato Free Press. “Murphy also favors using the state’s buying power to negotiate directly with prescription drug manufacturers and insurance companies to potentially save taxpayers money by buying in bulk.”
Not everyone agrees with that position, of course, as Tobias Mann at the Winona Daily News reports. In a one-on-one interview, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson “said that single-payer health care would be ‘disastrous’ for Minnesota.”
For his part, Johnson has had an interesting couple of weeks. As Don Davis wrote in a story about Johnson’s primary opponent, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “Once upon a time, Republican candidates would not speak ill of another candidate in the party. These days, forget that.” Davis’ remarks were in reference to Pawlenty unleashing a TV ad targeting Johnson, pinning him as a “wasteful” spender. Johnson has been fighting back on social media, in interviews and press conferences.
During one campaign stop in southeast Minnesota, for example, Johnson remarked: “People across the political spectrum are looking for someone who just says what he or she thinks, rather than someone who is carefully crafting a message that won’t lose votes or won’t offend anyone,” reported the Winona Daily News. “That’s one of the big differences between Pawlenty with me… he’s afraid he’s going to have to answer a tough question.”
CD3 incumbent Rep. Erik Paulsen — facing re-election in a district that did not go for Donald Trump in 2016 — continues to distance himself from the president, even if critics have been quick to note that Paulsen’s voting history tends to align with Trump’s policies and priorities. In his most recent effort, Paulsen released an advertisement in which he is canoeing in the Boundary Waters — where we are pretty sure Trump has never been.