Former radio host Jason Lewis and former state Sen. John Howe hammered each other in a Thursday forum over stadium subsidies and domestic policy as they tried to define themselves as Republicans and ultimately as candidates who could win in a complicated district.

Lewis and Howe were among five GOP candidates debating at an Inver Grove Heights church over who would be the best replacement for outgoing U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican who has represented the swing district for more than a decade. Republican activists and others packed the well-attended forum.

Lewis, a longtime radio show host, chided Howe for his vote in the Minnesota Senate approving public subsidies for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, a point Howe disputed. Lewis also criticized Howe’s support of state education standards, or Common Core.

But Howe hit back in his closing statement, calling attention to the fact that Lewis does not live in the district (not required by law). The attacks, he also said, demonstrated that Lewis sees him as his rival.

“I’m certainly glad Jason sees me as the candidate to beat tonight,” he said.

Howe, who appeared caught off guard by the attacks, said after the debate that he will be better prepared for future confrontations. He said Lewis has many years of radio clips that he plans to pick apart.

The other candidates are former Minnesota Rep. Pam Myhra, David Gerson, and newcomer David Benson-Staebler. The candidates touted their outsider credentials, frequently lambasting “Washington bureaucrats” and “insiders” who they say have contributed to gridlock in Congress.

“Only outside pressure is going to bring change to Washington,” Gerson said in his opening statement.

Pam Myhra highlighted her experience in the Minnesota Legislature, telling party activists that her record demonstrated her commitment to conservative principles.

Benson-Staebler, a political strategist who has worked on Democratic congressional campaigns, said that to improve education, he would propose giving tax dollars to religious schools.

His candidacy aroused suspicion in some activists. One approached him after the forum and accused him of being a DFL plant who would cost Republicans the congressional seat.


Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044