Republicans hoping Kistner can flip Craig seat in 2nd District

Rep. Angie Craig campaigns for reelection.
Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District Rep. Angie Craig (left) campaigns for reelection at the Dakota County Fairgrounds on July 26. Craig is trying to fend off a challenge from first-time candidate Tyler Kistner.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

For many politicians, campaigning amid the coronavirus pandemic is nothing like it’s ever been.

Virtual events have become common, but candidates are still trying to get face-to-face with voters. That’s what Rep. Angie Craig was doing at the Dakota County Fairgrounds this summer. There was no fair this year. Instead, several dozen people made their way through a modest row of food trucks.

Some of the people Craig encountered were wearing T-shirts promoting President Donald Trump. She tried to engage them by highlighting her efforts to find common ground with the Republican president, marketing herself as someone who works across the aisle in highly partisan Washington to help the people she represents in Minnesota.

“I have, from the start of my term, been respectful to those who support the president and his administration,” Craig said in an interview. “You know, my rhetoric is not partisan. If the president is doing something and the administration that I agree with, I support them. Year-round sales of E15 are a good example of that.”

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Craig said she also stands up to her own party when she disagrees on an issue. She cites her opposition to a pay raise for Congress.

Long before Republicans settled on a candidate to take on Craig, the national party was going after her and several other House Democrats who won where Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Minnesota’s 2nd District — which covers the southern Twin Cities metro area and stretches south to Northfield and Red Wing — is one of those places. Republican Jason Lewis won it in 2016 when Trump prevailed by 47-45 percent over Hillary Clinton, but Craig defeated Lewis in a rematch in 2018.

Marine veteran and first-time political candidate Tyler Kistner is the Republican hoping to win the seat back this year.

Marine veteran and first-time political candidate Tyler Kistner
Marine veteran and first-time political candidate Tyler Kistner says people are "not feeling safe under the Democratic party.”
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Kistner sat for an interview at his campaign headquarters in Burnsville in an office blanketed with memorabilia from his nearly 10 years in the Marine Corps.

“I am what you would call a true outsider,” Kistner said. “What drove me to run for Congress was bringing my experience, integrity and leadership having served this nation as an elite Marine special forces veteran, to help change the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington, D.C.”

Kistner backs Trump's agenda and calls the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic “effective” and “good.”

Like the president and other Republicans, he is also embracing a law-and-order message.

“The thing we’re hearing the most is people want the safety and security of the economy getting back to the prosperity it was at and having the safety within their communities and neighborhoods. They’re not feeling safe under the Democratic Party,” Kistner said.

Craig has a lot of money to make her case for reelection, more than $2.6 million in campaign cash according to her latest fundraising report. Kistner had less than $500,000 through mid-August.

Inver Grove Heights resident Marcy Froemel thinks Democrats are responsible for civil unrest around the country, but she’s not worried riots will come to her quiet suburb. Froemel shared her political views outside a library there.

“I’m mostly voting Republican,” Froemel said. “Why? Because Democrats cry too hard.”

Democrats have spent too much time fighting Trump, Froemel said.

“Ever since Trump got into the presidency, they started complaining about him before he even got elected and they haven’t quit,” Froemel said. “They just make it miserable for him.”

Back at the relatively deserted Dakota County Fairgrounds Tom Tillisch, who lives in Apple Valley, said he voted for Craig two years ago and will do so again this year. Tillisch said Craig is well-positioned to benefit from opposition to Trump, particularly the president’s response to the pandemic which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.

“I think there will be a massive backlash against the Republicans in general,” Tillisch said. “I think what’s going to happen is by November there’s going to be so many people hurting, so much unemployment, so much more homeless.”