Former talk radio personality Jason Lewis won a four-way primary on Tuesday to be the Republican candidate against DFLer Angie Craig in what will be a closely fought congressional race in a southeastern Minnesota swing district.

Lewis, the endorsed Republican candidate, won the Second Congressional District’s Republican primary by a comfortable margin over challengers Darlene Miller, John Howe and Matthew Erickson. The district includes most of Dakota, Scott, Goodhue and Wabasha counties, and parts of Washington and Rice counties.

“We worked very hard to try to get out a message of change, and I’m glad to see voters took to our message, and now it’s on to November and we’ll win there,” Lewis said to cheering supporters at his Burnsville campaign headquarters after the race was called in his favor.

Craig, a former health care executive, went unchallenged in her party. She said she was ready for the general election battle with Lewis to get underway.

“Jason’s candidacy represents a fundamental contradiction of Minnesota values,” Craig said. Controversial or outrageous things Lewis said in years as a conservative radio host will be campaign fodder, she said.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, who has held the seat for Republicans since 2003, is retiring. Increasingly dominated by voters in the southeast Twin Cities suburbs, the district has been growing more favorable for DFLers. President Obama narrowly won the Second District in 2012, and Kline’s retirement gives the DFL a chance to expand its hold on Minnesota’s congressional seats.

Kline endorsed Miller, a Burnsville business executive who finished second. She had publicized and criticized some of Lewis’ outrageous radio comments and writings. Lewis, who had shows first on KSTP-AM and later KTLK-FM, said part of his job on the radio was to be provocative.

“There will be distortions and words out of context, just like my opponents in the Republican primary tried to use that,” Lewis said Tuesday night.

Lorie Schindler of Apple Valley voted for Lewis, familiar with him thanks to his years as a conservative talk show host on several Twin Cities stations.

“He seems fiscally conservative and he would choose the issues important to me,” said Schindler, who works at an Apple Valley church that’s also her polling place. “I listened to him for years and trust him.”

Dozens of supporters gathered at Lewis’ Burnsville HQ where they munched on pulled pork sandwiches as results rolled in. Bill Schult, a small-business owner from Eagan, said he donated money to Lewis, put up yard signs and encouraged others to go to the polls.

“He has libertarian views, similar to mine,” Schult said. “I believe in much smaller government and far less government intervention.”

Lewis lost a congressional race in Colorado in 1990. The native of Waterloo, Iowa, moved to Minnesota not long after for the KSTP-AM gig, which he held for about a decade. After a brief stint in North Carolina, Lewis returned to the state in 2006.

Craig is a political newcomer. The Arkansas native worked as a newspaper reporter before shifting to, and quickly rising in, the health care industry. Before she joined the race for Congress last year, Craig left a job as executive vice president at St. Jude Medical. Craig is married to a woman, making her Minnesota’s first openly gay, major-party candidate for Congress.

“We spent our day talking to swing voters,” Craig said Tuesday. “That’s exactly what we’ve been doing the last eight months and it’s what we’ll continue to do.”

With no governor or U.S. Senate race on the ballot in Minnesota this year, the Second District race is likely to be the state’s most high-profile political contest. That was evident in a flurry of barbed news releases following Lewis’ victory: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Lewis “will be forced to defend every sexist, racist, misogynistic, and flat-out bizarre comment he has ever made.” Meanwhile, the Minnesota Republican Party accused Craig of having a “radical left-wing agenda.”

Several other congressional races could also be close: In the southwestern Twin Cities suburbs of the Third District, DFL state Sen. Terri Bonoff is taking on Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen. And in northeastern Minnesota’s Eighth District, retail heir Stewart Mills is mounting a rematch against DFLer U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

 

Star Tribune staff writer Mara Klecker contributed to this story.