MINNEAPOLIS — President Donald Trump's "Strong Endorsement" of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen drew a wary reaction Tuesday from Paulsen, who has distanced himself from the president as he fights hard to keep his suburban Minneapolis seat.
"Congressman Erik Paulsen of the Great State of Minnesota has done a fantastic job in cutting Taxes and Job Killing Regulations," Trump tweeted late Monday night. "Hard working and very smart. Keep Erik in Congress, he has my Strong Endorsement!"
Paulsen is under heavy pressure from Democrat Dean Phillips in the 3rd District, a west metro area that Hillary Clinton carried by 9 percentage points in 2016. Paulsen avoided Trump's recent rally in Rochester and his rally this summer in Duluth, and he has said he wrote in Marco Rubio's name in the 2016 election rather than vote for Trump.
Paulsen said he didn't ask for Trump's endorsement.
"Rather than endorse my campaign, I wish the President would endorse my position to protect the Boundary Waters, Minnesota's Yellowstone," Paulsen said in a statement.
Paulsen was referring to his vote last year against reversing the Obama administration's moratorium on new mining leases and prospecting in an area of the Superior National Forest near Ely that's upstream from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. That vote was the subject of his first TV ad of the campaign, which sought to emphasize his willingness to stand up to the president. The Trump administration canceled the moratorium this year. Despite Paulsen's vote, environmental groups are critical of his overall record.
Phillips said Trump's "seal of approval" shows that Paulsen is a phony moderate.
"Translation: Thank you for standing shoulder to shoulder and voting with me 98 percent of the time," Phillips tweeted.
"Donald Trump doesn't endorse moderates," Phillips campaign manager Zach Rodvold said in a statement.
White House officials have said that GOP candidates who try to distance themselves from the president are only doing themselves harm in the upcoming midterm elections.
It's shaping up as the one of the state's most expensive races of the campaign, drawing over $9 million in outside spending. Paulsen had raised over $5 million as of Sept. 30, compared to $4 million for Phillips, while Paulsen had $2.3 million in cash on hand heading into the homestretch compared to $268,000 for Phillips. House Speaker Paul Ryan visited Minnesota on Monday to raise money for Paulsen and U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis.