EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Angie Craig came so close to winning a seat in Congress that she wasn’t ready to give up.
The former medical technology executive turned Democratic politician lost by less than 2 points in 2016 to Jason Lewis, a conservative former talk radio host who styled himself on the air as “Mr. Right” and whose past on-air remarks continue to be an issue. Within a few months, she filed for a rematch.
The suburban 2nd District is one of four House contests in Minnesota that could flip from one party to another. With Democrats within range of gaining the 23 seats they need to take control of the House, both candidates are getting plenty of help.
Over $7 million in outside spending has poured in. Craig’s campaign has raised more than $4.2 million and had nearly $1.8 million in cash as of Sept. 30, while Lewis had raised nearly $2.5 million and had over $1.1 million in the bank.
WEB EXTRA: WCCO Election Guide 2018
Craig said her wife, Cheryl, and their four sons all backed another run. She said it’s been hardest on their youngest son, who’s still in high school and doesn’t like all the TV ads attacking his mother.
Lewis calls himself “an independent voice” and plays up his support for President Donald Trump. But the president’s coattails have frayed since he carried the district by just over a point in 2016. And there’s no third-party candidate as in 2016 when a transgender candidate drew nearly 8 percent.
The 2nd includes Eagan, Apple Valley, Burnsville, Lakeville, farm country, and historic Mississippi River towns like Hastings, Red Wing and Wabasha. It once leaned Republican but has changed enormously, University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs said. Dakota County’s proportion of college-educated voters, who tend to vote Democratic, is up substantially, he said, while there’s been an influx of Hispanics and people of color.
Craig has figured out what worked and what didn’t and used it sharpen her identity, veteran Democratic strategist Darin Broton said.
She’s showing a more personal side. Two of her TV ads feature her wife and sons as she talks about the need to control the costs of health care and increase investments in vocational education.
“When I talk about it I don’t talk about LGBTQ issues,” she said. “What I say is my wife and I have four sons, just like any other politician would. … It’d be cool to be the first openly gay member of Congress from Minnesota, but that’s not why I’m running.”
And she talks more about being raised by a single mother in an Arkansas mobile home park, without health insurance, and putting herself through college. She rose to become head of global human resources for St. Jude Medical.
Lewis is stressing his support for Trump’s tax cut, deregulation and a border wall. That earned him effusive praise from Trump at a Rochester rally in October, when Trump asked, “Who the hell is Angie Craig?”
But Lewis said he’s broken with Trump on big spending bills, warrantless wiretaps and federal laws affecting medical marijuana. And he’s worked with Democrats to reduce incarceration rates.
“Do I think much of what this administration has done is really important? Absolutely, I think it’s important. Would I do it the same way? Probably not,” he said.
Provocative comments from Lewis’s radio days have resurfaced in several news reports this cycle, most recently Oct. 19 when CNN reported that he once mocked women who were traumatized by unwanted sexual advances, including inappropriate kissing and touching. It emerged earlier that he once asked, “Are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can’t call her a slut?” And he once mused: “Call me a Neanderthal … but we’ve rushed to this judgment that growing up with two mommies is a wonderful experience. I don’t know, maybe it’s not so wonderful.”
EMILY’s List and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have sought to draw attention to Lewis’ remarks, which were also an issue in 2016 when different comments emerged.
Lewis said in an interview that his old statements didn’t hurt him in 2016 and won’t this time. “Nobody’s talking about this issue, except Nancy Pelosi and Angie Craig,” he said. His campaign accused Democrats of “weaponizing the sexual harassment issue for electoral gain.”
Craig said his radio comments had been “incredibly offensive” and that she took some personally. “He questioned whether families like mine should even exist,” she said.
There’s precedent for challengers winning rematches. It took four tries before Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson beat GOP Rep. Arlan Stangeland in 1990 in northwestern Minnesota. It took three tries and a redrawn 2nd District for Republican John Kline to unseat Democratic Rep. Bill Luther in 2002. And while the fight for an open seat in southern Minnesota’s 1st isn’t a rematch, Republican Jim Hagedorn is making his fourth run in a race considered a toss-up.
Why would losing candidates put themselves and their families through the all-consuming ordeal a second, third or fourth campaign?
“For the same reason you run in the first place,” said Kline, who served seven terms before his retirement set up the 2016 Lewis-Craig race. “You want to change things and you think you can make a difference.”
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)