In feisty debate, Craig and Kistner display deep policy divide

A man and a woman sit at separate tables on a stage
Republican Tyler Kistner and DFL Rep. Angie Craig met at the Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount on Thursday for the first and only debate of their 2022 campaign.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Up until now, much of the Minnesota 2nd District congressional race has been playing out in negative TV ads, many being paid for by organizations from outside of Minnesota. 

That changed Thursday when Democratic incumbent Angie Craig and Republican challenger Tyler Kistner met face-to-face for the first and only debate of this year’s campaign that was held at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount.

The two were quick to offer competing views of the role of the federal government. Inflation came up repeatedly during the hour-long, often feisty discussion. 

"How do you fix this? How do you make the cost of living affordable again for people?” Kistner asked. “You start reining in that out-of-control government spending. You start investing back into American energy dominance and start tapping into our own resources and manufacturing here in the United States."

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Craig denied that Democrats are responsible for the problem. 

"Inflation is a serious issue. It is a global, serious issue,” Craig said. “If you look across the world right now, disruptive supply chains from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic have caused inflation."

Kistner said that federal spending, including President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, is hurting Americans. 

"You have to help the working class and the middle class,” Kistner said.  What they did with the Inflation Reduction Act, I mean, let's be honest — the inflation recession act–only increased government spending by billions of dollars.”

Craig said spending bills she voted for will make life better for people in Minnesota. 

"The Inflation Reduction Act will lower health care costs in our country,” she said. “It will also unleash renewable energy across our country helping us become more energy independent as a nation."

This is the second election cycle where Craig and Kistner are facing off. Craig won in 2020 and is seeking a third term this year. While Kistner has been focused on the economy in light of inflation and high gas prices, Craig misses no opportunity to talk about preserving abortion rights.

"One in three American women have lost access to their reproductive rights since Roe was overturned,” Craig said during the debate. “Nine states have banned abortion even in the case of rape and incest and life of the mother. And it's well and good to say you're all for that, Tyler. But this is a federal representative position. You have the power to make sure that every woman in America has reproductive rights, and you ought to use it."

"I'm pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and life of the mother,” Kistner responded. “But this issue should be left to the states. It's exactly what [the Supreme Court decision overturning] Roe and Wade did, is push it back to the states. And abortion laws in Minnesota are not changing anytime soon."

Despite holding sharply different positions on major issues, Craig and Kistner agreed on the importance of workforce development that goes beyond encouraging traditional four-year college degrees.

Both also talked about the need to secure the border and each expressed concerns about the Biden administration's decision to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans. Both candidates also said they will accept the results of the election. 

Both said they support funding to improve transportation, but Craig challenged Kistner on that claim, noting that he said would not have voted for the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed in 2021.

"I have a hard time figuring out your policy positions from time to time, Tyler, because they seem to change depending on the audience,” Craig said. 

"I guess I'll say it slowly so you can actually hear it this time,” Kistner responded. “There was $500 billion of that bill I'd actually support that went to true infrastructure to help this district. The majority of that bill — of the 1.9 [trillion], I would not have supported."

Toward the end of their encounter Craig and Kistner accused each other of trying to mislead voters.

"You're pro-life, you're pro-Trump and you're pro-guns,” Craig said. “Now you get up here and you pretend to be the boy next door. But you are too extreme for Minnesota's Second District."

"I will just say simply, Congresswoman Craig, I have not seen someone run more of a dishonest campaign than you have this election cycle," Kistner said.