After weeks of trading barbs through a barrage of television ads, the candidates in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District will finally face off in person on Friday, in the first of three scheduled debates — or joint appearances — before Election Day.
Democrat Angie Craig, a former St. Jude Medical executive, and Republican Jason Lewis, a former talk-radio host, are the leading candidates in one of the nation’s most-watched congressional races. Democrats in the swing district, which includes the south metro communities of Eagan and Burnsville, among others, and stretches to Northfield and along the Mississippi River to Red Wing, are aiming to flip the seat that Republican Rep. John Kline has held since 2003.
Friday’s event will be relatively brief: a 20-minute joint appearance on Twin Cities PBS public affairs show “Almanac,” airing at 7 p.m. Craig and Lewis, along with Independence Party candidate Paula Overby, will participate in a conversation with the show’s hosts. The candidates have agreed to two other upcoming debates: one on Minnesota Public Radio at 11 a.m. on Oct. 20, and a second on KSTP at 6 p.m. on Oct. 30.
In recent weeks, Lewis’ campaign has made an issue of the debates themselves, sending out news releases noting that Craig had turned down offers to appear at several events, including debates hosted by the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce and Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce. In a news release, the campaign called the move “insulting” to “our business community leaders and job creators who deserve to hear directly from the candidates.”
Overby, the third-party candidate, has also voiced frustration about both Craig and Lewis pulling out of events like a League of Women Voters forum in Northfield and an agriculture forum at Farmfest this summer.
Craig’s campaign, meanwhile, attacked Lewis’ campaign schedule, suggesting that while Craig’s campaign had held a dozen events open to the public and the media since August, Lewis’ campaign had participated in only a handful.
“Instead of reaching out to and engaging stakeholders, he’s opted to talk into a microphone by himself for a YouTube video or cut hasty press releases,” the campaign said.
Both campaigns have also focused increasing attention to tying their opponents to their party’s presidential candidate. Following the recent release of a video that captured GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump using coarse terms to describe how he had groped women, Craig’s campaign called on Lewis to renounce his support for Trump.
Lewis responded to the controversy with a tweet: “As the father of two daughters and husband to Leigh, Donald Trump’s comments were clearly wrong, vile and indefensible.” He has not indicated that he will drop his support for Trump.
In the past few weeks of the campaign, both major party candidates are trying to dominate the airwaves, as ads from both the campaigns and outside groups continue to pop up on cable and broadcast TV. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad released last week highlights Lewis’ on-air comments about women and other groups, while a National Republican Congressional Committee spot spotlights Craig’s support for the Affordable Care Act.
With less than a month to go, Craig has held a substantial advantage in fundraising. As of July, when the latest finance reports were due, Craig’s campaign had more than $1.7 million in the bank, compared to Lewis’ $107,000.
The Craig campaign said recently that it had raised nearly $918,000 between July and the end of September, and ended the third quarter with more than $900,000 on hand. A spokesman for Lewis said his campaign would not be releasing third-quarter fundraising numbers until the federal filing deadline.