Labor, Gender Issues Shaping Key Minnesota Rematch

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By Tyrone Richardson

Unions on opposing sides and the #MeToo movement are fueling a rematch of the 2016 congressional race in Minnesota’s 2nd District. The names on the ballot are the same, but circumstances have changed.

“This is one of those races that is going to decide whether the Democrats can take back the majority in the House,” Lawrence Jacobs, political science professor at the University of Minnesota, told Bloomberg Law. “There’s an incumbent who is more conservative than his district,” he said, adding that the district has voted Republican for years “but has been trending in a more moderate direction.”

The district has a high density of union workers, and the winner could play a key role in shaping the nation’s labor and employment policies. The district’s congressional representative has sat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee in the last several years.

Democratic candidate Angie Craig, a former health-care executive, told Bloomberg Law that unions like the International Association of Machinists support her campaign because of her strong voice for worker rights and increased wages.

First-term Republican Rep. Jason Lewis has the support of some building trades unions because he backs job training programs and fair wages for infrastructure projects, he told Bloomberg Law.

Lewis, a former conservative radio talk show host who occasionally filled in for Rush Limbaugh, recently made news for disparaging comments he made in 2012 about women.

The election marks a rematch for the candidates. In 2016, Lewis won by 1.7 percentage points. Nearly 8 percent of district votes went to third-party transgender candidate Paula Overby, whose campaign likely split some support from Craig, a lesbian. Overby is now making a run for Senate.

Neither Craig nor Lewis have competition in the state’s August primary. In November, they join a crowded ballot as Minnesota voters choose a governor, attorney general, and both senators. Former Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s seat is open in a special election following his resignation.

Pivotal House Race

The conservative 2nd Congressional District is a sprawling mix of suburban and rural counties just south of St. Paul. It has been targeted as one of the key seats in the Democratic Party’s effort to regain control of the House.

As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Lewis has voted along party lines to approve several GOP bills intended to reverse Obama-era regulations.

The district is expected to be hard-fought, and voters could see the election as a referendum on President Donald Trump, who won the district by 1 percentage point in 2016. Midterms historically tend to go against the president’s political party.

Lewis said his voting record shows he sometimes sides with Democrats and that he hasn’t “been in lock-step” with Trump.

#MeToo’s Influence

The #MeToo movement also could affect the race. Recent reports cite a radio broadcast from 2012 in which Lewis expressed disappointment that he wasn’t able to call women “sluts.”

Lewis and state Republican leaders have criticized the reports as politically charged attempts to deflect attention from issues important to the district.

How the controversy will play with suburban women—a key segment of district voters—remains to be seen, David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, told Bloomberg Law.

“Years ago they voted Republican,” he said, but “they’re not wedded to the Republican Party.” Suburban women “will really determine who will win” a lot of November’s elections, Schultz added.

Money Matters

Craig is outpacing Lewis in fundraising, with $2.1 million to Lewis’ $1.8 million as of June 30, according to the Federal Election Commission.

“Money is not always decisive. Craig outspent Lewis last time and lost,” Schultz said. “Strategy, message, and campaigns matter. This year money speaks to the perceived importance of the race and to the fear, ‘If I do not give it helps the other side.’”

The Machinists are among the unions that have endorsed Craig and donated to her campaign. Craig “echoes” the lives of working people, said John Steigauf, IAM District 77 directing business representative.

“Angie Craig knows firsthand the daily struggles working families deal with: wage issues, health care, education, retirement insecurity, elder care,” he said in an email to Bloomberg Law. “She understands labor and our struggles and will be a tireless advocate, not just for the Machinist Union, but for all working families.”

Candidates Address Labor Issues

Craig told Bloomberg Law that boosting wages and worker training should be priorities for Congress.

“I have a lot of experience in managing employees, and I believe strongly that we should be focused on technical education and job skills,” she said.

Lewis’ support of job training and the prevailing wages helped him collect $10,000 from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, said Kyle Makarios, the union’s political director.

“He has an open-door policy with us and others and wants to make sure there are good, viable options for good careers without going to a four-year college,” Makarios said.

“I am trying to change it that they don’t need a four-year degree to succeed in life,” Lewis told Bloomberg Law.

His campaign is highlighting low unemployment and some first-term achievements, including backing the Republican tax overhaul.

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