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Jason Lewis announces a run for U.S. Senate

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A man raises his hand as he is surrounded by a crowd with signs.
Former GOP U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis announces that he is running for United States Senate at the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Former GOP U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, who built a career as a conservative radio talk show host before entering Minnesota politics, announced Thursday that he is running for United States Senate, hoping to take on DFL incumbent Sen. Tina Smith next year. 

Lewis made his announcement at the Republican Party of Minnesota booth at the Minnesota State Fair on the first day of the fair’s 12-day run. 

“Let the battle begin,” he said. “Let’s have a battle about issues. Let’s have a battle about ideas. Let’s have a battle about life and liberty and property."

At times he sounded like he was taking on 5th District DFL U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and other members of Congress who are proposing sweeping environmental, health care and economic changes. Lewis said most Minnesotans reject their agenda, especially in rural parts of the state.

“I know a lot of Democrats that don’t want to eliminate private health insurance. I know a lot of Democrats that want a reasonable immigration reform...in compromise to build the wall. The Democrats wouldn’t go along with that, but a lot of Democrats out here believe in that.”

Lewis has been contemplating a run for some time, and in June told MPR News that he will tie himself closely to President Trump in a statewide campaign. 

Trump has said repeatedly he intends to target Minnesota in his re-election effort and that he believes he could have won the state in 2016 if he had made one more campaign appearance here. 

Trump lost Minnesota to Hillary Clinton by fewer than 50,000 votes, the closest a Republican presidential candidate has come to winning the state’s electoral votes in decades.

Lewis said he was glad he stood with Trump in 2018, even though he lost his reelection to Congress. He said he’ll do it again in his Senate campaign.

“I agree with the president’s policies. I agree with a growing economy. I agree with finally stopping this influx of illegal immigration. I agree with energy independence. Anyone who wants to disagree with those policies, let them do it.”

Smith was also at the State Fair Thursday and responded to Lewis’ announcement.

“There are big differences, “ Smith said. “Jason Lewis supported the Republican tax bill that gave giant tax cuts to big corporations and the richest among us, and I wouldn't have supported that. He voted to repeal the basic consumer protections that are in the Affordable Care Act. I'm opposed to that. So there are big differences. But, as I said, right now I've got 15 months to focus on being the very best senator that I can be and really fighting for Minnesotans, and that's where my heart and mind is right now."

Smith, 61, was appointed to the Senate seat in January of 2018 by Gov. Mark Dayton when Democrat Al Franken resigned. She won a special election last November.

Lewis, 63, served two years in Congress representing Minnesota’s 2nd District, just south of the Twin Cities. He was defeated in 2018 by Democrat Angie Craig in a rematch of their race two years earlier. 

He may be better known by many Minnesotans from his previous career as a radio talk show host. 

Some of his statements on the radio have drawn heat, including a complaint that women can no longer be called sluts and his questioning the intelligence of women who are motivated to vote based on the availability of free contraceptives. Lewis has stood by the remarks, saying his job as a talk show host was to be “provocative.”