Minnesota candidates in some of the fiercest races on this year’s ballot got a boost on Monday from high-profile national politicians, with several election contests here pivotal to which party comes out ahead in the midterm elections.
House Speaker Paul Ryan warned of a “green wave” of Democratic fundraising in a visit to drum up support and campaign cash for U.S. Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis — two of the 25 vulnerable Republicans whom Ryan is traveling to support in 12 states. Later Monday, Paulsen’s opponent, Democrat Dean Phillips, hosted a town hall meeting on gun violence prevention that featured Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat whose district includes Parkland, the site of the deadly school shooting.
And another Florida politician also passed through Monday, when Sen. Marco Rubio attended a fundraiser and rally for Jeff Johnson, the Republican candidate for governor.
More big names are headed here in the coming days. On Friday and Saturday, Gabby Giffords, a former member of Congress and a gun control activist, will campaign with Democratic candidate for governor Tim Walz, Fifth Congressional District candidate state Rep. Ilhan Omar, Phillips and Lewis’ opponent, Angie Craig. Craig will also appear next week with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.
Ryan, a Wisconsin lawmaker who is not running for re-election, tried to manage expectations for Republicans as they try to hold onto majorities in the House and Senate.
“Midterm elections are always tough on the majority party. [In] midterm elections, the majority party usually loses seats,” Ryan told Lewis supporters. “We don’t see a blue wave, but we see a green wave of money coming against us. … That’s why you see so much descending on your airwaves.”
Lewis’ Second District and Paulsen’s Third District races are some of the most competitive in the state and nation. The two districts are drawing national media attention and the biggest spending in TV ads of all of the state’s races.
In fact, the Third District has become the most expensive congressional race in Minnesota, with more than $16 million spent so far. About $11.9 million has been spent by Lewis, Craig and outside groups in the Second District.
Over bottled water and cookies, Ryan met for a half-hour with Lewis supporters at his campaign office in Eagan to talk about issues such as the economy, health care and the state’s child care shortage.
Before Lewis’ event, Ryan stopped at Paulsen’s “victory office” in Plymouth, where he spoke for a couple minutes to campaign volunteers. He also attended a private fundraiser for Lewis and Paulsen. (He’s raised $70 million for House Republicans this year.)
“The optimism that we’re seeing in the country … you see it in people’s lives,” Ryan said to Lewis supporters, touting low unemployment rates and the benefit of the federal tax cuts before adding about Lewis: “He’s been an impact player from day one.”
Craig’s campaign spokesman said in a statement that Lewis “blindly supported Ryan’s extreme agenda” such as cutting Social Security, Medicare and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
In Golden Valley later Monday, several hundred supporters packed a ballroom, cheering as Rubio arrived to the sounds of “Eye of the Tiger,” the 1980s-era theme from “Rocky 3.”
“This is such a unique state. For starters, it’s the only state I won in the presidential race,” he joked.
Rubio, who is the son of immigrants who worked blue-collar jobs, gave an upbeat speech celebrating the achievements of the American middle class and an optimistic vision of America. Johnson was an early Rubio supporter, helping the Florida Republican claim his only victory in the GOP nominating contest by winning the Minnesota caucuses. Rubio, in turn, has backed Johnson’s bid for governor.
“We are a people who believes that every one of us has the right to life and to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness,” he said.
Rubio said state-level races are more important than what’s happening in Washington because policies of state and local government have a more direct impact on residents — and because states are where government is innovating. Rubio said Johnson is part of a new generation of conservative leaders who are applying principles of free enterprise and limited government to new problems.
“You can renew conservatism while staying true to its principles,” he said.
Inside an Edina auditorium, about 200 residents showed up Monday for a panel Phillips hosted on gun violence prevention, the fourth and last in a series of events he’s held on specific issues.
After the crowd gave Phillips a standing ovation, he invited Deutch to be on a panel with Protect Minnesota Executive Director Nancy Nord Bence, Lt. Col. Kyleanne Hunter from the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Robin Lloyd from Giffords’ organization.
“There are no magic wands needed. That’s why we have elections in this country,” said Deutch, adding that, in Congress, policymakers will propose a bill to require universal comprehensive background checks. “That will save lives.”
If elected, Phillips said he would also reform campaign finance so gun lobbyists can’t influence lawmakers.
“These are not numbers, these are lives,” Phillips said of Parkland victims, choking up. “… That’s why I’m doing this. I’m not going to rest and I’m not going to wake up on November 7 feeling the same way I felt after the election in 2016.”
The Third District, which spans Bloomington to Coon Rapids, has elected Republicans to Congress since 1961, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won the district. President Donald Trump won the Second District, which encompasses the southeastern suburbs, by a bit more than 1 percentage point.