Battle for the House Depends on Competitive Races in the North Star State
In the increasingly heated battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives, control of the majority will be significantly impacted by who wins the highly contested Congressional races in Minnesota. The 2020 contests feature one rematch in Southern Minnesota, one first time challenger facing a vulnerable Freshman incumbent, a first time candidate against a 30 year incumbent, and the most glaring recruitment failure for national Democrats in the 2020 cycle.
There are few states with this many competitive races in 2020, with the other states featuring a similar number of heated races being large states like Texas, New York and California.
Let’s examine the four hotly contested Congressional races in the North Star state, starting with Minnesota’s First District in a rematch of 2018.
Congressman Jim Hagedorn won this seat in a very tight race in 2018, defeating Army Veteran Dan Feehan by less than a percentage point. In the 2018 contest, Feehan largely tried to avoid attacking Hagedorn’s record, favoring to talk about his own record and policy positions while letting National Democrats do the mudslinging.
From the first day Feehan entered the 2020 race, however, it was clear he would be taking a much more aggressive approach this time around. Feehan immediately began attacking Hagedorn on a much more personal level than he did in 2018, and he has continued to take this approach as seen by the back and forth between the two candidates in the 2020 FarmFest Congressional Forum.
Hagedorn has no problem punching back, and has continued to stay on offense throughout the first legs of the 2020 campaign. Hagedorn started with a significant initial cash, but this has been eliminated by Feehan’s strong fundraising numbers. Most political handicappers still have this race as lean Republican, but we can expect that at least a few will move this race into the Toss-Up column as we get closer to election day.
Congresswoman Angie Craig won this seat in the Blue Wave of 2020. It is one of 30 Republican seats won by President Trump that is now held by a Democrat, and it is the 12th most Republican leaning of those 30 seats. Craig is a strong fundraiser, but her liberal voting record is in direct contrast with her pitch to voters, in which she attempts to cast herself as bipartisan.
For the majority of 2019, National Republicans were on the hunt for a strong candidate to take on Craig. Three strong candidates emerged and launched their campaigns at the same time in January of 2020. Former State Representative Regina Barr was seen as the early front runner, and Air Force Veteran Erika Cashin had a strong story to tell at first glance.
But it was political newcomer and Marine Veteran Tyler Kistner who easily ran away with the contest, securing a rare first ballot endorsement win with 62% of the vote. Kistner has emerged as a strong fundraiser, posting $744,000 and outraising Craig in the 2nd Quarter of 2020 despite the endorsement challenge running through early May.
Kistner’s background as a Marine Special Forces Veteran and service minded leader is an appealing contrast to Craig’s liberal voting record for Republicans. There are mixed opinions on this race, with some saying that Angie Craig is a worthy opponent who will be tough to beat, and others saying the strong Republican leanings of this district give Republicans a clear path to victory in November.
Minnesota’s 7th District has long been Minnesota Republicans white whale. With the GOP unable to recruit a top tier candidate, Congressman Collin Peterson has been able to coast to victory without much cause for concern. That changed in the fall of 2019 when former Lt. Governor and Senate President Michelle Fischbach entered the race. Upon Fischbach’s announcement, multiple political handicappers moved the race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss-Up.”
Despite the early excitement for her campaign, Fischbach’s path to the general election was not guaranteed, and she had to secure the GOP endorsement against a group of challengers. The most prominent candidate for the endorsement was Dave Hughes, an Air Force Veteran who had previously lost to Peterson twice. At the start of the convention, Fischbach was under 50% and it looked as if Hughes had a chance to block her from receiving the endorsement. But after 8 rounds of balloting, Fischbach secured the MNGOP endorsement with 65% of the vote.
The other candidates who ran for the endorsement were largely sore losers, and despite previously pledges to honor the endorsement of the grassroots delegates at the 7th District convention, all but one of the candidates who lost to Fischbach at the convention filed for the primary. Of those candidates, only two have remained somewhat relevant in the primary. Hughes is still a factor to some degree, but his campaign is running on fumes and he has not had the resources necessary to broadcast his message before the primary. Noel Collis, a doctor and businessman, has self-funded his campaign with just under $800,000 spent in the primary. Most observers agree that despite Collis’ spending, his bizarre TV ads and unorthodox campaign messaging are unlikely to win voters to his column, and most likely won’t be enough to carry him over the finish line on the 11th.
Our sources have informed us that Fischbach is expected to clear above 40% of the vote on Tuesday, and there’s a very good chance that she could get to 50%. After Tuesday, Fischbach will finally turn her sights on 30 year incumbent Collin Peterson, who has struggled with fundraising in the 2020 cycle.
With President Trump on the ballot in a district he won by over 30 points, and the strongest Republican candidate in decades on the ticket with him, 2020 just might be the year Republicans get their white whale.
MN08: When Congressman Rick Nolan made the unexpected announcement that he would not run for another term in 2018, Republicans pounced for a chance to win back a district that they had struggled to control for more than 70 years, except for a brief stint from 2010-2012. Stewart Mills had provided a spark of optimism that the GOP could win the seat, having run strong races against Nolan in 2014 and 2016, and losing by a razor thin margin each time.
But an open seat presented a real opportunity to win, and Republicans couldn’t have hoped for a better candidate than former police officer Pete Stauber. Candidate Stauber assembled a strong team and had an open field, while Minnesota Democrats fought out a primary through August. The primary left Democrats with a deeply flawed candidate in Joe Radinovich, who had a criminal history that was easily exploited by national Republican groups.
Stauber won with a comfortable margin, but in early 2019 most national handicappers expected this to be one of the most competitive races in the country. But in the most glaring recruitment failure on the Democrat side, the Minnesota DFL struggled to find a top tier candidate step forward.
Quinn Nystrom is a respectable candidate, but nowhere near the caliber needed to beat the increasingly popular and respected Stauber. With Stauber stacking up endorsements from labor unions and other members of the traditional DFL power base, it’s hard to picture a scenario where Democrats make a serious play for this seat in 2020.