Minnesota Voters to Decide Congressional Rematch

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Patches of sun blanketed the Twin Cities over the weekend, bringing a heat that hasn’t been felt by Minnesotans for weeks. Like many folks do in warm autumn weather before the cold takes over, Ken Bielski was raking and tidying up his yard when he stopped and explained why he’d be sticking with incumbent Republican candidate Jason Lewis for the 2nd Congressional District.

“Lewis stands for what I believe in—personal responsibility and minimum taxes,” said Bielski, a 63-year-old sales representative from Apple Valley.

A red, white and blue sign for Angie Craig – Lewis’ Democratic opponent in the 2nd District race – was staked in the next yard.

“We’re friends,” Bielski joked with a grin, referring to his neighbor.

The 2nd Congressional District covers the southern Twin Cities’ metro area. Bielski voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. When asked about his thoughts on the Trump presidency today, he said Trump is bombastic and thin-skinned.

“But, he’s not a politician. He says what he thinks unlike other politicians because he’s not a politician,” Bielski explained.

Bielski said he does not necessarily like Trump but likes how he has “stirred up the hornet’s nest.”

Trump has also swayed his decision to vote for Lewis.

“Democrats are not fully respecting the election process according to our Constitution. You have people who in essence are doing everything in their power to turn back the 2016 election and are not paying attention to the mandate of the people,” Bielski said.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters after arriving on Air Force One at Minneapolis- Saint Paul International Airport for a fundraiser, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minn. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Lewis was a conservative radio talk show host before being starting a career in politics in 2015.

Republicans have dominated the 2nd District historically, but Lewis, who has a Trump-like style, was not considered a strong contender in 2016 by GOP leaders.

Craig, a former health care executive, was considered by many Democrats to be the sure winner two years ago but surprisingly lost the seat to Lewis by just 2 percentage points.

In the congressional rematch, Craig is talking less about a referendum on Trump and more about Lewis’ track record on tax cuts and health care, an area in which she is well versed because of her background.

Craig is also outspending Lewis in TV and radio ads. She has spent a total of $2.8 million compared to Lewis’ $1.9 million.

A recent New York Times poll shows Craig getting 51 percent of the vote compared to 39 percent for Lewis.

If Craig is able to grab the 2nd District seat, she’ll be first Democratic since 2001 to take it and her victory will also align with the political changes Minnesota has shown. The largest metro area, Minneapolis and St. Paul, is becoming more liberal while greater Minnesota is becoming more conservative.

Tinkering with his pickup truck, a former Republican who wished to remain anonymous said he now describes himself as an Independent and said the political climate has been disappointing.

“The people who really care should be in there. I think if we had term limits it would be the best thing no matter what the party,” the voter said, adding he is “fatigued” over the onslaught of political ads and big money in elections.

Perhaps the most controversial Minnesota political ad this cycle comes from Erik Paulsen, the five-term Republican incumbent representing the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses Hennepin County suburbs to the north, west and south of Minneapolis. It includes affluent cities like Minnetonka, Wayzata and Edina.

Paulsen’s ad tries to link his Democratic opponent and businessman Dean Phillips to state attorney general candidate Keith Ellison, who has been accused of physically abusing an ex-girlfriend. The ad claims Phillips “ignored sexual harassment and discrimination at his companies.”

In fact checks by local news stations, Paulsen’s ad was given a failing grade in terms of truthfulness.

Paulsen has representative the 3rd Congressional District since 2009 and previously served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1995 to 2009, where he was majority leader.

Phillips is the former CEO of his family business, Phillips Distilling Co., and currently owns Penny’s Coffee, which has two Minneapolis locations.

The race is considered a toss up.

In a heated debate hosted by Minnesota Public Radio on Oct. 5, Paulsen attacked Phillips within minutes and said he was a “hypocrite” because he claims “health care is a moral right” but said he did not provide health insurance to his workers at Penny’s Coffee.

“I provided health care to every single full-time employee at every organization I ever managed, ever built,” Phillips rebutted.

On Sunday night at Legion Post 172 in Osseo, Phillips talked with veterans mostly about VA health care and tax reform.

About 40 people were in attendance, sitting at large round tables scattered about the room under dim fluorescent lighting. Most of the veterans present were from the Vietnam era—the same war Phillips lost his father in when he was 6 months old.

A couple surprising topics Phillips brought up were misrepresentations in political advertisements and placing term limits on congressional leaders. The latter won applause by the veterans.

“When people are serving their entire careers in multiple decades, it’s a problem. And it creates barriers to entry for a new generation of potential thoughtful leaders who wish to do good work,” Phillips said.

Greg Belknap, a 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran, listened to Phillips and said he was “very impressed” and thought the candidate’s appearance “seemed genuine.”

Belknap also liked how Phillips said he’d research and learn the things he doesn’t know.

“That’s what we want to see with our representatives,” he said.

Marcia Fetters, 65, said she’ll be voting for Paulsen, the Republican.

She did not vote for Trump in 2016, however, because she was upset about the then-candidate’s remarks about women.

Fetters lives in Greenwood, one of the handful of small towns that make up the shores of the south Lake Minnetonka area. It’s an affluent town just like Deephaven, where Phillips resides.

“I actually didn’t vote. We were gone on Election Day, so we got our absentee ballots and I voted Republican.”

She said that before Election Day, while she was preparing her Republican absentee ballot, the infamous Access Hollywood video came out.

“I broke down crying and started ripping up my ticket,” Fetters said.

Fetters said she that while believes Republicans have the best policies, she’s really disappointed in both parties at the moment, but mostly Democrats.

“I think they’ve been crazy in my mind with so many things so I really hate politics right now, like most of America,” she said.

She said she was also disappointed in what Democrats did during U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings last month.

“I think it was really unfair. Am I in favor of sexual harassment? Of course not,” Fetters said. “But I don’t think they had enough evidence at all. I was really disappointed in that and I couldn’t believe the way everyone treated him and his family.”

When asked how she isn’t swayed into voting differently because she doesn’t agree with Trump’s actions, Fetters said “his policies are still my policies.”

“He’s a jerk. He’s a bully. And he is impolite But I think his policies are still right,” she said. “I hate the way he talks to people. I wish we had a different president, but he is still getting conservative policies through.”

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