Legislative candidates say voters are paying attention

Published 7:01 am Sunday, October 9, 2016

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger 

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Minnesota legislative candidates say gaining notice during the summer was tough.

Email newsletter signup

With presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump winning (or losing) all the attention, voters either wanted to talk about the presidential offerings or didn’t want to talk politics at all.

But in recent weeks, the candidates say, that has turned around.

Voters they meet, sick of the vitriolic presidential contest, want to chat about health care, jobs, transportation and schools right here in Minnesota.

The shift in focus will be good preparation for those going to the polls. Along with the presidential race, U.S. House races, a constitutional amendment and judiciary contests, they will have to pick who they want to represent them in the state House and the state Senate in November. All 201 seats in the Legislature are up for re-election.

Already, big spenders have plunked down more than $5 million on mailers, television ads and other campaign tools to woo voters to vote for Democrats or Republicans in the legislative races. In the most targeted districts, the spending could total more than $1 million by Election Day.

Debate about debates

The age-old debate about debates is looming over the 2nd Congressional District race.

Jason Lewis and Angie Craig aren’t just fighting over issues — they’re fighting about how often they’ll talk about the issues.

Both campaigns accepted three debates: an Oct. 14 forum on TPT’s “Almanac”; an Oct. 30 debate on KSTP-TV; and — pending logistics — a debate on Minnesota Public Radio that hasn’t been scheduled yet.

But Craig has not accepted at least two other debate invitations: an Oct. 10 debate at the Dakota County Chamber of Commerce and an Oct. 17 debate at the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce. Lewis has agreed to both.

Independence Party candidate Paula Overby is also in the race.

Lewis’ campaign, in a statement, accused Craig of skipping debates to conceal how “out-of-touch” her views are from voters.

A Craig spokesperson said she had prioritized the three broadcast debates out of “dozens of requests” because they had the widest possible audience so voters could see “Craig’s experience and qualifications as a Minnesota business leader.”

Gun policy arises

Republicans and rural Democrats have blocked stricter gun-control bills in the Legislature for years, but suburban and city DFLers believe it’s becoming a winning political issue for them.

They demonstrated their support last week at rallies headlined by Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was severely injured in a 2001 shooting, during stops in Minnetonka, Apple Valley and St. Paul. “We must never stop fighting — fight, fight, fight” to stop gun violence, Giffords admonished a crowd in Apple Valley.

Polls in south-suburban legislative districts show overwhelming public support for laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, said Lindsey Port, a DFL House candidate from Burnsville.

Fiorina for Lewis party

Former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina stopped in Minnesota last week to raise cash for the Minnesota Republican Party at a private luncheon event Wednesday afternoon and for Lewis on Wednesday evening.

Sanders seen

Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has been stumping for Clinton, brought his energetic bounty to Minneapolis and Duluth on Tuesday.

“I ask all of you in the next five weeks not only to come out and vote, not only to get your friends to come out and vote, but to do everything you can to make certain that Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States,” Sanders told the crowd of about 2,000 at the University of Minnesota’s Northrup Auditorium.

Polls show Clinton struggling with some of the populations — including young voters and northern Minnesota — where Sanders was strong during this year’s early presidential picking.

Clinton’s campaign also sent former first daughter and current first daughter hopeful Chelsea Clinton to Minneapolis on Thursday to rile up voters. She is expected to be back in the state — in southern Minnesota — on Monday.

Money matters

Craig raised nearly $1 million for her 2nd District campaign over the past three months — a huge figure that more than doubles her previous record.

Craig announced her fundraising Thursday, a week ahead of the deadline for campaigns to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission.

Other candidates will begin announcing how much they’ve raised, spent and have in the bank over the next week. By Saturday night, the full reports will be posted listing every single expense and significant donor the campaigns took in the past three months.

Pelosi spotting

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  will touch down in Minnesota next week for a fundraiser and a speech. The Democratic leader will headline a fundraiser for Craig and 3rd District Democratic candidate Terri Bonoff on Monday evening. Non-paying members of the public can hear Pelosi speak at the University of Minnesota on Tuesday morning about “women in leadership, the 2016 Congressional elections, prospects for House Democrats and issues that could still come before Congress this year.”

Headliner: U.S. Rep. John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., will headline the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s fall fundraising dinner on Oct. 21, the DFL announced. Lewis was a civil rights leader in the 1960s and has represented Georgia in the U.S. House since 1986.

“The vote is precious. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it,” Lewis said recently.

David Montgomery and Bill Salisbury contributed to this report.