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Trump a big factor in race for Congress in northeastern Minnesota

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74-year-old Everette Kingsley, from nearby Hill City.
Everette Kingsley, 74, from Hill City, Minn., says he's voting for Republican Pete Stauber this fall because Trump supports him.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Outside a hardware store along a busy road through downtown Grand Rapids, Everette Kingsley, 74, from nearby Hill City, says he's voting for Republican Pete Stauber this fall because Trump supports him.

"I think Trump's doing a good job," Kinglsey said.

Trump narrowly lost Minnesota two years ago but he won big in the 8th District — by nearly 16 percentage points. Even so, DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan managed to hold on to his seat. Nolan is not running for re-election. Republicans hope strong support for Trump in northern Minnesota will help them flip the open seat.

In 2016 Democrats held off Republicans in the 8th District race by less than one-half of a percentage point. Polling suggests this time around it could once again be very close.

Jim Love lives a few miles outside of Grand Rapids in Cohasset
Jim Love lives a few miles outside of Grand Rapids in Cohasset, Minn. He thinks Pete Stauber will win.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Jim Love lives a few miles outside of Grand Rapids in Cohasset, Minn. He thinks Stauber will win.

"He's the perfect guy for the job," Love said.

Love thinks the battle over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination will break for Republicans.

"That's got to energize the base," he said.

But northern Minnesota Democrats say they're fired up and united like never before.

"We can thank Donald Trump a lot for that," said Cyndy Martin, chair of the Itasca County DFL Party. She says campaign signs for Democrats are in high demand.

Cyndy Martin chair of the Itasca County DFL Party.
Cyndy Martin, chair of the Itasca County DFL Party, says northern Minnesota Democrats are fired up and united like never before.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

"We can't keep signs. The minute I get them, we'll be out," she said.

Bob Thomas, 67, of Grand Rapids can't stand Trump. He said his vote for Democrat Joe Radinovich will also be a vote against Trump.

"I don't care for his dictatorship," Thomas said.

The 8th District stretches from just north of the Twin Cities north and east to the Canadian border. After more than a half-century of solid Democratic control, it's been in play since a Republican upset in 2010 at the height of the tea party movement.

Ever since, outside special-interest groups have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to sway voters here.

On one of the hottest issues in the race, both Stauber and Radinovich say they support proposed copper-nickel mining on the Iron Range. Environmental groups and some area residents are concerned that such mining near the Boundary Waters could pollute water in the pristine area.

8th District debate
Joe Radinovich (left), DFL candidate for Congress in the 8th District, talks during a debate Sept. 26, 2018, at the Depot in Duluth. Joining Radinovich in the debate was the Republican candidate Pete Stauber (right) and Independence Party candidate Ray "Skip" Sandman (second from right).
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The third-party candidate in the race, Skip Sandman of the Independence Party, is a staunch opponent of copper-nickel mining and could strip support from Radinovich on the issue.

Radinovich, 32, served one term in the state House, ran Rick Nolan's last re-election campaign and worked briefly as chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. He also worked as a union organizer.

At a recent debate, Radinovich promoted single-payer health care and called the Republican-backed tax law that passed late last year a giveaway to the wealthy.

"We need to take back our government. We need to wrestle control from the special interests in Washington, D.C., and invest power in the people in rooms like this," he said. "That's why I'm in this election."

Stauber also talks a lot about "taking back our government," which he says is too expensive and too intrusive. 

Like Radinovich, Stauber, a former police officer, city council member and professional minor league hockey player, claims to be the best fit for the 8th District.

"You could just look at our life experience," he said. "I've got 52 years of life on this earth, and I've spent the vast majority of my life outside of politics. My opponent has been in politics his entire life."