There's no specific question about abortion rights on any Minnesota ballot this year, but there might as well be if you ask many Democrats. Kevin O'Rourke lives in Hastings and is voting for DFL U.S. Rep. Angie Craig.
“First and foremost is women's rights. It's high stakes. It's really high stakes,” O’Rourke said. “I mean, this is seriously life and death. And it shouldn't be a political issue. It should be a health issue.”
Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the southern Twin Cities suburbs and exurbs, is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. And national Republicans think they can flip it to their side this November.
Craig Nowlen is a retired police officer who also lives in Hastings. Nowlen voted for Donald Trump twice for president.
“Inflation, the border. I mean, are the biggest ones,” Nowlan said about the issues in this year’s campaign.
He said Roe v. Wade is also a big issue, but even as a Republican he does not support a total ban on abortion.
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“Not 100 percent, no,” Nowlan said, adding, “I don't agree with abortion, but I think there should be some concessions.”
Angie Craig narrowly held off a challenge from Republican Tyler Kistner two years ago. In this year’s rematch, Craig is running hard on abortion rights.
“Congressional Republicans — believe it when they tell you who they are and what they will do if they take back the House majority,” Craig said to a group of supporters in Woodbury recently as they prepared to knock on voters' doors.
“They are going to ban abortion in our nation, and that affects Minnesota,” Craig said. “They are going to do everything they can, everything in their power to make sure that women and families and the people who support women do not have access to reproductive rights in our country."
Kistner's 2020 campaign website said he was "100 percent pro-life," but that language is not there this year. Kistner insists Craig and other Democrats are trying to mislead voters about his stance on abortion.
“My position has been clear. For the last 10 interviews and the last 10 times, I'm pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest, life of the mother, but the decision should be left at the state level,” Kistner said. “I'd like to get Congresswoman Craig's stance because she's voted twice to allow abortion up to birth.”
Late-term abortions are done only when the health or life of a pregnant woman is at risk, Craig said.
"The ignorance displayed by my opponent’s stance demonstrates perfectly why politicians should not be involved in these personal and private decisions," Craig said in an emailed response to Kistner’s comment.
Kistner said people he's meeting are much more concerned about the economy than abortion rights. A recent statewide MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE-11 poll found more voters ranked the economy and public safety as their top issue than abortion.
“Craig is in a very clear toss-up race, and I think this is a very credible Republican pickup target as they try to put together a potential House majority for next year,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, one of many national political experts watching the Craig-Kistner race.
Kondik has not changed his "toss-up" rating in response to the recent death of third party candidate Paula Overby. Overby's name will stay on the ballot. A similar situation played out in 2020 when third party candidate Adam Weeks died in late September. His name stayed on the ballot, and he got nearly 6 percent of the vote.
Kondik said the campaign rhetoric in the 2nd Congressional District race is not unlike others around the country.
“The parties, they're almost like they're talking past each other, in that they're focusing on pretty different issues in their advertising. It's pretty common for the Democrats to be on offense on abortion, pretty common for Republicans to be more on defense and want to sort of de-emphasize the issue, and that seems to be a feature of this Minnesota 2 race.”