Minnesota 2nd District rematch between Craig and Kistner ‘a toss-up’

A person speaks into a microphone to a crowd.
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig speaks in front of her campaign headquarters in Burnsville. The Democrat sharpened her criticism of Republican opponent Tyler Kistner during a brief interview following her remarks.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Republican Tyler Kistner is running a rematch campaign against two-term DFL incumbent Rep. Angie Craig in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, which spans from the southern Twin Cities suburbs to just north of Mankato.

A map showing a political border
A map showing Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District.
Courtesy of the Legislative Coordinating Commission

Republicans think they are well-positioned to flip the seat, and Craig acknowledges she faces a challenge. Although the election is more than four months away, the candidates are already exchanging sharp rhetorical barbs.

Kistner, a former Marine from Prior Lake, focused on inflation and high government spending during a recent stop at a bar and grill outside of Lakeville, as well as high gasoline prices, which he called “apocalyptic.”

“The rising cost of living has increased whether you're Republican or Democrat, poor, rich or middle class,” Kistner said. “It has affected each and every one of us.”

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A person speaks into a microphone to a crowd.
In his rematch campaign against Minnesota U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, Marine Corps veteran Tyler Kistner visited Red Fox Tavern in Lakeville.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

A few days earlier Craig was firing up supporters outside her campaign headquarters in Burnsville.

“This is about common sense,” Craig said. “It’s about do you want someone in Congress representing the 2nd District who’s going to actually represent the middle of the 2nd District, or do you want the extreme in our nation?”

As Craig framed Kistner as an extremist she also talked about her support for legalized abortion with the U.S. Supreme Court apparently poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Kistner opposes legalized abortion, Craig noted.

“He is in effect going to mandate, mandate — government mandate — that a woman does not have her own reproductive rights,” Craig said. “This decision is a decision only between a woman and her family and her faith. That is it. The government doesn't belong anywhere near this decision.”

Craig sharpened her criticism of Kistner during a brief interview following her remarks.

“My Republican opponent here in the 2nd would have voted against the infrastructure bill. My Republican opponent would have voted against capping the cost of insulin at $35. He would never have supported allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. He would never support any changes to our gun laws,” Craig said. “He wouldn't stand up and say, ‘No, Roe v. Wade is actual precedent, 50 years, it's not going to get changed.’”

Asked for his response during an interview before his Lakeville appearance, Kistner did not dispute any of Craig’s claims.

“When you get desperate, you get stupid,” Kistner said, “and Angie Craig is doing everything she can to fight for her political future.”

A recent Gallup poll found 58 percent of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land. Still, Kistner dismissed the notion that his opposition to legalized abortion could cost him votes on November.

“When I look across this district, more people are telling me about the struggles they're facing about the economy and the rising cost of living in every American household — whether you're low income, middle income or higher income — than they care about what pro-life or pro-choice you are,” Kistner said.

Even though Craig won twice in the district, national political observers, including the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, categorize her prospects for reelection as a “toss-up."

“Look, this is a race that Craig only won by a couple of points in 2020. And we have a pretty good feeling that the political environment for Democrats is going to be worse, perhaps significantly worse, than it was in 2020,” said Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. 

The biggest challenge facing Craig’s reelection effort might have nothing to do with the unpopular Democratic president and rising prices, Kondik said, noting the presence of the third-party Legal Marijuana Now candidate, Paula Overby.

Kondik said Overby is likely to attract thousands of voters, many of whom would otherwise cast ballots for Craig.

In 2016, Overby, running in the district under the Independence Party banner, garnered nearly 8 percent of the vote.

All those factors weigh in Kistner’s favor, Kondik said, even though he lost to Craig two years ago.

“It's not uncommon for a challenger to lose in one environment and then to come back and win it in a different kind of environment,” Kondik said.