Could Trump's presence flip Minn. district to DFL?

Jason Lewis addressing the GOP state convention.
Jason Lewis addressing the 2016 Republican State Convention on May 21 in Duluth.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

As an ex-talk radio host, Jason Lewis doesn't mind a fight. But the GOP's nominee for Minnesota 's 2nd Congressional District isn't quite sure who or what he'll be fighting against in this race.

There's a Democrat running. But Lewis also faces three primary challengers, including businesswoman Darlene Miller, who won the backing of retiring U.S. Rep. John Kline, the man they all hope to replace.

And then there's Donald Trump.

Darlene Miller
Darlene Miller, owner of Permac Industries, is a Republican candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat held by John Kline.
Regina McCombs | MPR News

The presumptive Republican candidate finished third in Minnesota's Republican caucuses, and political observers says the businessman's looming presence may torpedo GOP candidates across the country, including the Minnesota 2nd, which stretches from the southern Twin Cities suburbs well into south-central Minnesota.

"I don't know. I really don't know," Lewis said of Trump's potential effect on his candidacy. "This is the strangest election year I've been involved in," he added as he sat in a coffee shop. "Wouldn't you know it, I'm smack-dab in the middle of it."

While Kline has kept the congressional seat Republican since first winning in 2002, President Barack Obama squeaked out a victory four years ago and DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar handily won there, too.

"I think it's going to be a tough hold for Republicans, particularly in this environment," said Nathan Gonzales, who tracks congressional races around the country for the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report.

Gonzales thinks Trump will generally help Democrats and hurt Republicans. "He's most likely to be a drag on down-ballot races and that includes the 2nd District."

DFL 2nd District candidate Angie Craig
DFL 2nd District Congressional candidate Angie Craig greets volunteers at her Eagan campaign headquarters office on April 26, 2016.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Democrats have settled on businesswoman Angie Craig as their candidate to replace Kline. Besides shoring-up DFL support, Craig said she's spending a lot time trying to appeal to independents and Republicans.

Craig said she's hearing a lot of concerns about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

"Some of them are telling me that Donald Trump is just too extreme for them and that they've been voting for Republicans for a very long time and that they are definitely voting for a Democrat this time," she said. "Some of them for the first time."

Federal campaign finance records show Craig raised more than $1.8 million through the end of March, including a personal loan to her campaign of more than $750,000. Lewis had less than $250,000.

Lewis said he doesn't need as much money as Craig because has already has strong name recognition from his radio years. He portrayed Craig as a fan of big government.

Craig, meanwhile, is painting Lewis as an extreme conservative and doing her best to link him to Trump.

"What I know is that the party of Donald Trump endorsed Jason Lewis in the 2nd Congressional District, she said. "And I don't think that's what voters in the 2nd District want."

Lewis believes voters will reject Craig's effort to tie him to Trump and to make issues of controversial things he's said on the radio. Trump, he added, is also bringing newcomers to the party who could help down-ballot candidates like him.

Willard Converse, 90, is a Democrat from Eagan.
90-year-old Willard Converse, a Democrat from Eagan, is convinced Trump is turning off many more people than he's energizing.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

"They don't want the same old gotcha politics and we're going to tie you to this or tie you to that," he added. "That doesn't help the average family in the 2nd District. They want to know what are you going to do" in Washington.

Some Republicans say Minnesota Democrats have their own top-of-the-ticket problem. Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in Minnesota's caucuses by more than 23 points, and some DFLers may be less than enthusiastic to turn out for Clinton this fall.

Still, on the northern end of the 2nd District outside a public library in Eagan, 90-year-old Willard Converse, a Democrat, is convinced Trump is turning off many more people than he's energizing.

Said Converse: "I've never heard of a major political party being destroyed the way that Trump is destroying the Republican Party."

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