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Impeachment already a campaign issue in Craig’s 2nd District

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U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., speaks at a town hall meeting
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., speaks at a town hall meeting in Prior Lake, Minn., on Sept. 21, 2019. As the House Intelligence Committee held hours of public impeachment hearings this week, Rep. Craig was facing a delicate balancing act back home in her 2nd District, where Republicans have targeted her for defeat in 2020.
Briana Bierschbach | MPR News file

Perched on a stool at Andy’s Bar and Grill in Belle Plaine, Minn., Don Woestehoff said he’s proudly voted Democratic all his life, but no more. He can’t forgive them for the impeachment hearings.

"I don't know what the reason is,” he said. “It's not like Nixon years ago. With Trump, they wanted to impeach him from Day One."

Then he turned his attention to his local congresswoman, freshman Democrat Angie Craig.

“I voted for her, but I won’t vote for her again,” he said. “She’s done.”

As the House Intelligence Committee held hours of public impeachment hearings in Washington, D.C., this week, Craig was facing a delicate balancing act back home in Minnesota’s 2nd District.

It covers more impeachment-friendly communities in the southern Twin Cities suburbs as well as smaller towns to the south where people are more supportive of President Trump. That includes Belle Plaine, a town of less than 7,000 people, an hour drive from the Twin Cities that typically votes Republican.

"Angie Craig's district is kind of a microcosm of the nation,” said Dan Hofrenning, a political science professor at St. Olaf College in the 2nd District. “The reality of the impeachment process is, it’s a political trial, not a legal trial. It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of American citizens.”

Craig has weighed her decisions on impeachment carefully. She was a latecomer among Democrats to support public impeachment hearings, but she hasn't said whether she'd vote to actually impeach Trump.

“I hope that she supports the impeachment. That's the way I feel. I've been following it,” said Jim Hewitt, who voted for Craig twice and lives in Inver Grove Heights, a suburban city in her district. “But whatever she votes, she votes. I support her."

Craig, who defeated a Republican incumbent for her seat two years ago, is one of 31 Democrats in the country who represents a district that Trump also won in 2016. Republicans are already seizing on polarization over impeachment, targeting swing district Democrats like Craig with hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads.

A $330,000 ad buy from the Republican National Committee accused Craig of focusing on the hearings “instead of working to create more jobs.” The ad said she votes with “radicals” and splashed Craig's face next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat from New York and author of the Green New Deal. The conservative American Action Network is also targeting similar digital ads in the district.

To counter that message, House Majority Forward, a Democratic group, ran pro-Craig ads, and Craig's campaign has pushed back, saying she's authored more than 13 bills and co-authored hundreds more, including proposals to lower the costs of prescription drugs.

"While the Washington Republicans continue to lie about Angie’s record, she will continue her work on lowering the cost and increasing access to health care, expanding career and technical education, supporting our family farmers, and giving everyone the chance to earn a good life,” her campaign said in a statement.

The 2nd District was represented by a Republican for years before Craig, but she beat freshman U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis in 2018 by more than 5 percentage points. It was part of a wave of Democrats flipping districts in and around suburban communities.

Cook Political Report has listed the 2nd District as lean Democratic, and Hofrenning said the district could be trending in that direction. He notes that Craig’s only announced opponent so far is Rick Olson, a former state lawmaker from Michigan who now lives in Prior Lake. Lewis is running for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

"In some sense that indicates the overall judgment of the district that Angie Craig is favored,” Hofrenning said.

But there's still a long time to go between now and the 2020 election, and no one knows exactly where impeachment is heading. The House could hold more hearings and eventually has to decide whether it will hold a vote to impeach the president. Then the process heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, which will hold a trial and has the power to actually remove the president from office with a two-thirds vote.

A recent Minnesota Poll from the Star Tribune found Minnesotans are evenly divided on whether Trump should be impeached, even if a majority of people believe that he abuses his power.

Craig is heading to Belle Plaine on Saturday for a town hall meeting, where she’ll likely hear more from voters like Emily Franco, who are opposed to the impeachment hearings.

"I feel like there's a lot of bigger things to worry about than silly nonsense,” Franco said from her dog grooming business in downtown Belle Plaine, noting that there’s little information that could come out that could sway her otherwise.

“I've got a pretty hard line, for now anyway,” she said. “It’d have to be pretty drastic.”