Congressional hopefuls Angie Craig and Dean Phillips emerged on top at suburban DFL conventions Saturday, while no candidate secured the endorsement in northeastern Minnesota.
DFL faithful in the south and west suburbs braved snowstorms to support the candidates they want to see face off with incumbent Republican Reps. Jason Lewis and Erik Paulsen. Only two candidates were competing for their party’s nomination in each of the congressional districts.
In the sprawling Eighth Congressional District, five candidates were competing to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who announced earlier this year he was not running for another term. Former FBI counterterrorism analyst Leah Phifer received the most support, with nearly 48 percent of the delegates backing her in the 10th and final round of balloting, while 42 percent chose former state Rep. Joe Radinovich. But they both failed to meet the 60 percent threshold needed to win the endorsement.
Minnesota’s congressional races are among those that have drawn national attention, as Democrats hope to harness opposition to President Donald Trump to flip Republican-held seats across the country this year.
Phillips, a businessman who has previously worked at the helm of Talenti Gelato and Phillips Distilling Co., quickly defeated Tonka Bay Council Member Adam Jennings in the Third District race.
If elected, he would represent a large swath of the west metro, including much of suburban Hennepin County. Paulsen has represented the area for five terms and was endorsed Saturday at the GOP convention. Republicans have held the seat for 57 years.
Phillips told convention attendees, “We’ve got a big task ahead of us.” He said he wants this election to be “a wake-up call for America” by flipping the 24 seats needed to put Democrats in control of the U.S. House.
With a blizzard warning looming and the Osseo Area Schools superintendent planning to close the high school where people convened, delegates acted quickly to select Phillips, said Kay Lewis, a spokeswoman for the local DFL Party. Approximately 250 people and 167 delegates turned out, which is about typical, she said.
“Once everybody finally got here, everyone was just fired up,” she said. “We are unified today in moving forward to take out Erik Paulsen, and that steam got everyone here despite blizzard conditions.”
In the south metro’s Second District, DFL die-hards selected Craig over Jeff Erdmann, an American government teacher and Rosemount football coach.
Craig, a former human resources executive with St. Jude Medical, hopes to oust freshman congressman Lewis, whom she narrowly lost to in the last election. Craig took the podium after the nomination to chants of “Angie!” She asked supporters for their help as she makes a second attempt to defeat Lewis.
“I am different this time. I’m different because I spent a whole lot more time listening to you,” she said, and added that the process has made her a stronger candidate. “So Jason Lewis better watch out.”
Convention attendees are usually faithful voters. After the convention, Craig said she is working hard to get broad support from people in the district. She said she has had strong turnout at past events — including one held in Eagan during another snowstorm and at the same time as a Vikings game.
“We are absolutely going to be recruiting as many new people as we possibly can to this campaign and making sure this is a campaign for everyone,” she said, including young voters.
State DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement that Craig “embodies the American dream.”
“She will fight to ensure [that] every Minnesotan has the opportunities she did by fighting for good-paying jobs, affordable health care for all, and real middle-class tax reform,” he said.
Martin also congratulated Phillips and said the candidate has led a grass-roots campaign, spending the past 10 months traveling the district and talking to residents.
Up in Duluth, the convention process was more eventful. After a few rounds, North Branch Mayor Kirsten Hagen Kennedy, former TV news anchor Michelle Lee and state Rep. Jason Metsa were out of the running. That left Phifer and Radinovich battling for the endorsement.
Radinovich, in addition to serving in the Legislature, was recently chief of staff for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and managed Nolan’s 2016 campaign. Nolan endorsed Radinovich to be his successor.
Phifer entered the race before any of the other candidates as a challenger to Nolan. She disagreed with Nolan’s past actions in support of the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine.
She teaches politics and immigration policy at Augsburg University. She has previously worked as a contractor with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which drew concern from members of the DFL Latino Caucus.
The caucus co-chair, Miguel Morales, told convention attendees that he wanted them to know they cannot afford to ostracize Latino community members by supporting someone with that background. Phifer replied at the convention by telling Latino Caucus members in Spanish that she hears them and would continue to listen to their concerns.