WASHINGTON – Minnesota’s top congressional races cost more than $72 million this election cycle, with most of the spending coming from outside political and advocacy groups.
These organizations spent more than $43 million trying to flip key competitive congressional seats in the Twin Cities suburbs, southern Minnesota and the Iron Range, according to federal election reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance.
Political-action groups contributed more in Minnesota than 40 other states, underscoring the intensely competitive races in the state.
Minnesota’s congressional races cost millions more than they did four years ago, a number boosted by the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Al Franken, who resigned last year after several women alleged he groped or tried to kiss them.
The most expensive race was the Third Congressional District in the west metro, where Democrat Dean Phillips defeated five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen. Nearly half the $23.1 million in spending came from outside groups, including $5.3 million for ads against Phillips and $3.9 million for ads opposed to Paulsen.
Minnesota emerged as a fierce political battleground during the midterm elections, when Democrats won control of the U.S. House. Democratic victories in two suburban House seats were offset by a loss of federal power in rural Minnesota, where the exits of Democratic Reps. Tim Walz and Rick Nolan paved the way for Republicans Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber to replace them.
The candidates also drew money from many of Minnesota’s largest companies.
American Crystal Sugar, an agricultural cooperative headquartered in Moorhead, was Minnesota’s largest corporate giver, contributing $2.4 million to various congressional campaigns. Hubbard Broadcasting, a television and radio broadcasting company in St. Paul, gave close to $1 million. Wells Fargo and Co. rounded out the top corporate givers, spending about $866,000.
Phillips and fellow Democrat Angie Craig easily outraised and outspent their rivals. Phillips spent $6.1 million — loaning himself $1.3 million in the final stages of the campaign — to Paulsen’s $5.7 million.
In the Second Congressional District southeast of the Twin Cities, Craig spent $5.2 million in her successful run against Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis. He spent $2.9 million. Craig also spent vastly more than Lewis in their first contest in 2016, when she lost a seat Democrats were hopeful they could win.
Outside groups spent $8.5 million in the district, mostly from organizations that ran ads opposing Lewis, such as the pro-gun control Giffords PAC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Environmental Defense Fund and PACs associated with Planned Parenthood.
Outside spending played a far greater role in congressional races in Greater Minnesota, dwarfing spending from candidates’ campaign accounts.
In the Eighth Congressional District in the Iron Range, outside groups spent $9.6 million, most of it from conservative PACs in opposition to Democrat Joe Radinovich. Stauber only spent $1.6 million from his campaign account; Radinovich spent $2.3 million.
Such groups spent the most in southern Minnesota’s First Congressional District, where they poured $13.8 million into races. Democrat Dan Feehan spent $4.1 million from his own campaign account — nearly three times that of Hagedorn — but it wasn’t enough to overcome the barrage of negative outside spending. Roughly half the outside money paid for ads opposing Feehan from groups such as America First Action, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Incoming Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, raised $1 million in her successful bid to replace U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic representative of Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. Omar’s rival, Republican Jennifer Zielinski, raised $23,355.
The special U.S. Senate election cost $15.3 million, with Democratic Sen. Tina Smith spending nearly twice as much ($8.5 million) as Republican Karin Housley in her successful run to keep the seat she was appointed to after Franken resigned.
Outside groups spent $2.4 million on the race, mostly opposing Housley or supporting Smith.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar raised $10.5 million in her re-election effort, handily out raising her rival, state, Rep. Jim Newberger, a paramedic from Becker, who raised $257,714.
Klobuchar raised the majority of her money, or more than 63 percent, from donors outside Minnesota.