WASHINGTON – The DFL’s bid to flip the seat held by U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis is prompting a debate in the Second Congressional District, a mix of suburbs and rural areas, over what kind of candidate is best suited to win over middle- and working-class voters.
As the party tries to win back voters who helped deliver GOP control of Congress and the White House, the DFL’s well-funded favorite, Angie Craig, is facing a challenge from Jeff Erdmann, a high school teacher and football coach who has recently sharpened his critique of Craig’s corporate background.
“I have not been involved in corporate America,” said Erdmann, who coaches and teaches at Rosemount High School. “My representation is going to go for working-class Americans and small businesses who are at a disadvantage with what’s happening in Washington now.”
With freshman Republican Lewis seeking a second term in this swing district, the race is expected to be among the most competitive in the country. Craig, a former health care executive with St. Jude Medical, is seeking a rematch against Lewis after losing to him by less than 2 percentage points in 2016. The district includes southeastern Twin Cities suburbs and areas to the south.
A spokesman for Craig’s campaign questioned how someone could criticize Craig for lacking a working-class connection, pointing out that she grew up in a trailer park and worked at McDonald’s while putting herself through college.
“She understands that we need to do some real work and correct course in this country to make sure that the opportunities are available for everyone, including her kids’ generation,” said spokesman Gordie Loewen.
Craig has won the backing of the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), earning a spot in a program called Red to Blue that aims to chip away at the GOP majority in the U.S. House. A spokeswoman for the DCCC said in a statement that Craig’s story is one of achieving the American dream and, as a mother and former health care executive, “running to improve opportunities for Minnesota’s hardworking families.”
Craig earned her place in the Red to Blue program, the DCCC added, by surpassing aggressive goals for grass-roots engagement, local support, campaign organization and fundraising — and earning the support of Minnesota lawmakers, progressive groups and labor unions.
Craig spent $4.7 million in her 2016 bid but lost to Lewis, who spent $1 million. She recently reported raising more than half a million dollars in the final three months of last year. Erdmann, who has raised far less and says he’s concentrating on small donations, took aim at Craig’s past involvement in a St. Jude’s political action committee that gave to Republicans who tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Loewen said part of the reason Craig got involved in that PAC was because, at the time, she was trying to build support across the political spectrum for legalizing same-sex marriage. Craig, a lesbian, was in a marriage that was not legally recognized at that time. The fund also gave money to Democrats.
Erdmann is advocating positions to the left of Craig by highlighting his support for a single-payer, Medicare for All health care program. Craig said she supports universal health care but not a single-payer system.
“Angie believes that we need to get to a system in which there is quality, affordable health care for everyone, and if we lock ourselves into a single way of getting there, we’re never going to get there, especially in a partisan, divided Congress,” Loewen said.
Lewis voted for Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last year, calling for the need to control skyrocketing premiums.
The race between Craig and Erdmann shines a light on rifts in the Democratic Party following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, and accusations that the Democratic National Committee rigged the endorsement process to favor Clinton over the more progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders. As Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, Democrats are trying to reach voters who feel economically left behind.
Lewis’ campaign is already taking shots.
“It seems the Erdmann campaign is feeling the Craig hypocrisy we saw regularly last cycle as the same Democrats who claim to be working to get money out of politics seem more interested in someone who can raise money than someone to represent their values,” his campaign manager, Becky Alery, said in a statement.
She added: “In 2016, the country made it clear they didn’t want Hillary and this year Minnesota will (once again) make it clear they don’t want Angie Craig.”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210