The former GOP congressman officially launched his challenge to DFL Sen. Tina Smith. The announcement, dropped on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair, makes the 63-year-old radio commentator the first major Republican candidate to enter the race.
Here are some key things to know about Lewis and his latest bid for office:
He has a voice many may recognize:
Lewis spent the bulk of his professional life broadcasting on the local and national airwaves. He got his start in St. Paul, appearing on KSTP before joining a station in North Carolina. His show later returned to Minnesota and was syndicated nationally starting in 2009.
Lewis’ career as a conservative commentator led to a publishing deal — his book Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights hit shelves in 2011 — and frequent guest hosting gigs on Rush Linbaugh’s show.
Opinions offered by Lewis during his years on the air surfaced in his previous campaigns. He came under fire for calling people on government assistance “parasites” and “scoundrels” and making demeaning comments about African-Americans. In 2018, CNN unearthed audio of his multiple disparaging comments about women. A Lewis aide said that “it was his job to be provocative” on the radio.
Lewis returned to the airwaves after he lost his seat in Congress in 2018. He now contributes brief commentaries called “Minnesota Moments” on Minneapolis-based KTLK-AM. On an episode posted Aug. 15, he referred to Smith as the state’s “accidental senator” and called her “arguably the most liberal [senator] in the country.” He’s also appeared on Limbaugh’s show as a guest host on a number of occasions.
The Senate bid is his fourth run for public office:
Lewis ended his eponymous radio show in 2014, a move he has said was intended to allow him to work on a startup business and spend more time with his two daughters and wife Leigh, a former St. Paul police officer. But after longtime GOP Rep. John Kline announced plans to retire, Lewis decided to run in the south suburban Second Congressional District. He won the 2016 race for the open seat with 47% of the vote, defeating DFLer Angie Craig by a narrow 2-point margin.
Lewis was a reliable Republican vote during his time in Congress, siding with his party more than 90% of the time . Key votes included supporting the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the 2017 tax cuts backed by President Donald Trump. He also successfully pushed for technical education legislation that expanded dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students and co-sponsored proposals protecting medicinal marijuana patients and research in states where the substance has been legalized.
Lewis served just one two-year term. Craig defeated the freshman congressman in a 2018 rematch, winning 52% of the vote in a midterm election that saw gains for Democrats nationwide.
His back-to-back U.S. House bids in Minnesota weren’t Lewis’ first time weighing a run for public office. He ran, unsuccessfully, for a congressional seat in Colorado in 1990 and was floated as a challenger to former U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014.
He’s Team Trump
Lewis has long been a vocal supporter of the Trump administration. He appeared alongside the president at a 2018 rally in Rochester, where he embraced an endorsement from the commander-in-chief. He said during that campaign that while he split with the president on some issues, he “will support him on good policies.”
Since leaving office, the former congressman has frequently voiced support for the president on his Twitter feed. “No doubt POTUS is in it here to win and make history,” Lewis tweeted after a late July briefing with the president’s re-election team. “Proud to be a part of the team already at work for a crucial GOP victory in Minnesota next year.”
Lewis is expected to echo the president’s brash, no holds barred style on the trail in the months ahead; Politico reported Thursday that two consultants on his bid are also advising the president’s re-election campaign.
“I don’t think it pays to run away from a Trump presidency,” he told MPR News this summer.