Angie Craig and Jason Lewis, the leading candidates vying for an open congressional seat in Minnesota’s Second District, clashed Friday over the federal health care law, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and energy policy during a 20-minute forum in St. Paul.
Billed as a conversation between the candidates on the TPT public affairs show “Almanac,” the debate grew testy as DFLer Craig, a former St. Jude Medical executive, and Republican Lewis, a former talk-radio host, repeatedly attacked each other’s records and positions.
The two candidates are locked in a competitive race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican, in one of the nation’s most-watched congressional elections. Democrats in the swing district — which includes the south metro cities of Eagan and Burnsville, stretches south to Northfield and along the Mississippi River to Red Wing — are aiming to flip the seat that Kline has held since 2003.
Craig defended President Obama’s health care law in the wake of a near-collapse of Minnesota’s individual market, saying, “We have to make improvements to that individual marketplace.” She chided Lewis for his calls to undo the health care law and said that he was “part of the dogma that wants to simply repeal” it.
Lewis countered that the crisis with Minnesota’s individual market, where rates have soared more than 50 percent, is evidence that government mandates are leading to skyrocketing premiums for some residents, particularly those outstate. He called it “this experiment that some of us predicted is not working.”
When Craig said she would push to authorize the federal government to negotiate with prescription-drug companies to reduce drug costs and overall health care costs, Lewis said he was skeptical that price controls would work. “You’re not going to get innovation,” he said.
One of the debate’s notable exchanges came when Craig pressed Lewis to rescind his support of Trump, the Republican presidential nominee who has come under fire for bragging about kissing and groping women. Since a video emerged last week in which Trump is heard talking about women in vulgar terms, more women have come forward alleging that he touched them inappropriately.
“How many women have to come out alleging sexual assault against Donald Trump?” Craig asked.
“About the same number that came out against Bill Clinton,” Lewis shot back, apparently referring to women who made similar allegations against the former president.
On climate change, Craig said she would make the production of renewable energy sources a priority if she were elected to Congress. She attacked Lewis for his skepticism that climate change is caused by humans.
“I just don’t know how much man has contributed to it,” Lewis responded.
Friday’s campaign forum was relatively brief. Independence Party candidate Paula Overby also participated, but she struggled to gain traction during the debate, at one point quipping that she wasn’t part of the conversation. She criticized the two-party system, saying that it had reduced the choices for voters fed up with political polarization.
The candidates have agreed to two more debates: one on Minnesota Public Radio at 11 a.m. on Oct. 20, and a second on KSTP-TV at 6 p.m. on Oct. 30.
As of July, when the latest finance reports were submitted, Craig’s campaign had more than $1.7 million in the bank, compared with Lewis’ $107,000. The Craig campaign said recently that it had raised nearly $918,000 between July and the end of September, and ended the third quarter with more than $900,000 on hand.
A spokesman for Lewis said his campaign would not be releasing third-quarter fundraising numbers until the federal filing deadline.