ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democratic candidate Joe Radinovich and Republican hopeful Pete Stauber shared personal stories and traded jabs in a debate Friday as they run in a race that is one of the few chances for the GOP to pick up a Democratic-held House seat.
Once considered a lock for Democrats, President Donald Trump won the 8th Congressional District by a commanding 15 percentage points in 2016. After three hard-fought terms, Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement, leaving the seat open.
EXTRA: WCCO Election Guide 2018
With more than $8 million in outside political advertisements flowing into the district, the stakes are high. Radinovich, a one-term state lawmaker and Nolan’s former campaign manager, and Stauber — a retired police officer and St. Louis County commissioner — tangoed during Friday’s debate hosted by Minnesota Public Radio News over tax breaks and hikes, gun laws and personal issues.
Radinovich and Stauber spent almost half the debate arguing about taxes.
Stauber defended the federal tax cut package passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by Trump last year, saying it’s sparked an economic run and helped small businesses in the district save money. A cut to the federal excise tax on alcohol production halved a Two Harbors brewery’s per-barrel tax bill, saving them $70,000 a year, he said.
“That’s real economic savings,” he said. “The bottom line is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has reinvigorated this economy.”
Radinovich slammed the tax overhaul as tilting too far toward the wealthy or businesses at the expense of middle-class taxpayers, while ballooning the federal deficit to an estimated $1 trillion by 2020.
But Stauber also criticized Radinovich for voting to raise taxes during his sole term in the Legislature — the Democrat voted for a budget bill in 2013 that levied higher taxes on the state’s wealthiest earners. Radinovich didn’t shy away, saying it helped balance the state’s budget after a string of deficits.
“You’re accusing me of raising taxes by $2 billion? I am guilty as charged,” he snapped back.
Radinovich said adversity has prepared him for Congress.
As a teenager, he walked in to find a family member who had shot himself with a firearm. Less than a year later, another family member shot and killed Radinovich’s mother before taking his own life.
Radinovich said he’d push for stronger background checks on gun sales, focusing on firearm sales at gun shows where they aren’t currently required.
Stauber outlined his own personal experience while arguing stronger background checks weren’t necessary. The retired police offer was shot in the head while off duty in 1997. Years later, a man pulled a gun on him and pulled the trigger, but it misfired.
“I still support our Second Amendment,” Stauber said.
Stauber said background checks shouldn’t be required for transfers between family members, as some proposals for so-called universal background checks would require. But he suggested he would support nationwide requirements for training to receive a gun license, as only some states require.
EMAILS AND PARKING TICKETS
Radinovich and Stauber went back-and-forth over personal problems that have grown into campaign fodder.
Radinovich acknowledged a slew of parking tickets, late fees and a marijuana paraphernalia charge when he was a teen that was later dismissed. That record has played heavily in campaign ads launched from outside political groups, but Radinovich said he’s a better person and representative because of them.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life and I think that makes me more human,” Radinovich said.
Stauber, meanwhile, tried to downplay a fight over his County Commission emails that has now spilled into court. Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party sued St. Louis County after it refused to release emails Stauber wrote from his county email address to the National Republican Congressional Committee. A judge is expected to rule in the case as soon as next week.
Stauber called it a desperate campaign ploy, but Radinovich said voters have a right to know.
“It seems bizarre to me that Pete just won’t release the 15 emails. If there’s nothing to hide in them, why won’t he release them?” the Democrat asked.
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