They call him “Minnesota’s mini-Trump”: Jason Lewis, the right-wing talk-show host who’s running for Congress for an open Republican seat in the suburbs south of the Twin Cities, the 2nd Congressional District. It’s the same seat Bill Maher targeted two years ago in his “Flip-a-district” campaign—only then it was held by a six-term Republican incumbent named John Kline. Maher’s effort didn’t work; Kline was reelected.
But in April 2015, Democrat Angie Craig announced that she would challenge him in the next election—she’s a heath-care executive who had never run for office, and a lesbian mother of four—and then in September 2015 Kline said he wasn’t running again. Obama had carried the district in 2008 and 2012 and Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar had both won there—Franken narrowly, Klobuchar easily—making it one of the few genuine swing districts in the country. That’s why the Democrats are making a major effort to flip it this time around.
Jason Lewis is the Republicans’ gift to the DFL (the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party,” as the Democrats call themselves in Minnesota). Two decades of ranting on the radio (he quit in 2014) have provided a gold mine of Trumpish material for his opponent. He’s complained about white race “suicide,” pointing out that Latinos have a higher birth rate; he’s complained about single women, who, he says, “vote on the issue of somebody else buying their diaphragm” (i.e., including reproductive health coverage as part of Obamacare). He’s what you might call a crazy libertarian: “if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t,” he said. “But don’t tell other people they can’t” (i.e., the government shouldn’t tell people what to do with their lives). There’s lots more like that—and voters in the district are now learning all about it.
Angie Craig, the DFL candidate, was senior vice president of global human resources at St. Jude Medical, the Twin Cities firm that manufactures heart valves and other medical devices, and employs 18,000 people in 40 countries. The Progressive Change website says, “A fun fact about Angie is that she and her wife are raising four teenage sons.” If she wins, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund points out, she will be “the third LGBT woman in Congressional history.”
Her life story is striking: She grew up in an Arkansas trailer park, was one of three kids raised by her single mother, and she went to college and graduated from the University of Memphis. She entered history in 2000 with a legal battle in Tennessee for custody of her adopted son. The birth mother had chosen Craig’s partner as the adoptive parent, but that was challenged by the birth mother’s own parents. The birth mother’s parents argued that lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, but were denied standing in family court. They appealed. The proceedings were ugly. In 2000 there was no such thing as gay marriage; Craig and her partner testified that they were “long-term roommates.” They ultimately won on appeal, a landmark ruling, according to Emily’s List, which helped pave the way for other same-sex couples to adopt. “My son,” Craig said at a campaign event, “is so proud to be that kid who paved the way.”