Four months before Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate Adam Weeks died in September, sending the pivotal Second Congressional District race into a legal tailspin, he told a close friend that he had been recruited by Republicans to draw votes away from Democrats.

In a May 20 voicemail message provided to the Star Tribune, Weeks told a longtime friend that Republicans in the Second District approached him two weeks before the filing deadline to run for Congress in the hopes he'd "pull votes away" from incumbent DFL Rep. Angie Craig and give an advantage to the "other guy," Tyler Kistner, the Republican-endorsed candidate.

The recording, underscoring the intense battle in one of the state's most competitive elections, has come to light just as the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office listed Weeks' death as a result of substance abuse, caused by ethanol and fentanyl toxicity. The death was ruled as accidental.

The message, left on the answering machine of his friend Joey Hudson, indicated that Weeks planned to meet with some GOP operatives in May, but he did not identify them other than as "CD2 [Second Congressional District] Republicans."

The Craig and Kistner campaigns declined to comment on the recording. Second District Republican Chairman Jeff Schuette said no one in his organization met with Weeks about running in the race but other conservatives in the district could have recruited him.

In the Second District race and other swing seats across the state, Democrats have accused GOP operatives of recruiting third-party candidates such as Weeks to siphon off votes that would otherwise go to Democratic candidates. Weeks, an organic farmer from Red Wing who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, publicly denied allegations before he died that he was running as a spoiler.

Privately, he was more open about the situation with friends and family — even if the campaign was taking a physical and mental toll.

"I swear to God to you, I'm not kidding, this is no joke," Weeks said in the message, confirmed as his voice by his cousin and through independent comparison to other videos he posted online before his death. "They want me to run as a third-party, liberal candidate, which I'm down. I can play the liberal, you know that."

The district is considered a potentially pivotal swing district in Minnesota, running from the Twin Cities southern suburbs through Prior Lake, Burnsville and south past Wabasha.

Craig ran for the Second District in 2016, losing with 45% of the vote to then-GOP U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis' 47%. That year, Independence Party candidate Paula Overby was also on the ballot and won nearly 8% of the vote. Two years later, Lewis again got 47% of the vote, but Craig won with more than 52%. The difference, Weeks pointed out in his recording, was the absence of a third-party candidate.

Weeks' sudden death on Sept. 21 triggered a legal battle over the timing of the Second District election, with Republicans arguing that a special election should be held in February. State law requires a delay if a major party candidate dies within 79 days of the election. But a trio of federal judges last week sided with Democrats, allowing the election to go on as scheduled on Nov. 3. Kistner appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court but was turned down on Tuesday.

Current officials and candidates with the Legal Marijuana Now Party could not be reached or declined to comment while litigation was pending. Marty Super, the former chairman of the Legal Marijuana Now Party, said he doesn't know some of the candidates running under the party's banner this fall, but he said there's nothing party officials can do to stop them. "People who hadn't even contacted us, who we don't know who they are, they've never had anything to do with us, they spend $100 [to file for office] and they're in our party," he said.

Super, who got into third-party politics because marijuana eased his wife's suffering from brain cancer, said the party's hope is to "put ourselves out of business" by pushing Democrats to legalize recreational marijuana. "Having more candidates run, in a way it's a good thing, except they're running in races that we wouldn't have run in because we wouldn't have wanted to be a spoiler," he said.

Until recently, friends and family were not sure how Weeks died.

Earlier this year, Weeks was struggling financially as the pandemic took a hit on his organic farming business, which he started with his mom. In the voicemail message, he said he didn't have any funding to run a campaign but said Republicans were offering him $15,000. It wasn't a lot, Weeks acknowledged, "but it's enough to make door knocks with."

His campaign advisers were training him for debates and controlling his messaging, family and friends said. Weeks wrote on his personal Facebook page that advisers had banned him from posting his opinions on social media because "I speak my mind sometimes."

He was recovering from a skiing accident but still put miles on his feet as he campaigned, which took a physical toll, said Hudson, his friend since childhood. Hudson provided the voice mail from Weeks to the Star Tribune after he was contacted for a story about third-party candidates.

Overby had met with Weeks on his farm during the campaign and, as a former third-party candidate in the Second District, wanted to mentor him. Weeks told her he'd voted for Republicans in the past but also the Green Party and Ralph Nader. She considered him a "perfect third-party candidate" and rejects the idea that he was only a spoiler in the race.

The DFL Party filed an FEC complaint against Weeks in August for not filing a campaign finance report and dug up more than 100 social media posts in which he professed support for Republican candidates and conservative policies. Weeks often took jabs at what he called the "fake news" and "socialist scum" in the Democratic Party.

"The reality of politics really hit him hard. The pandemic hit him pretty hard, they closed down the farmers market, he's all about community supported agriculture," said Overby, who is now trying to run on the ballot in Weeks' place. "I knew he was challenged by all of that."

Hudson said if Weeks were still alive, he'd want to know how many votes he got in the race for Congress. He said his friend was not malicious by nature — he was the "sweetest guy" who was simply misunderstood.

"He was a guy who thought he could make the country better, and he had a unique perspective on things. Sometimes the things he thought didn't quite line up," Hudson said. "He could have two contrasting ideas in his head at the same time that some people would think is crazy, but that was kind of the crazy brilliance of him."