GOP sees opportunity in Minnesota’s 2nd District against incumbent Craig

Angie Craig
Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota’s 2nd District, talks to supporters at her watch party in Savage on November 8.
Tim Evans for MPR News | 2022

Money and attention are sure to pour into Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District again this year, where Democratic Rep. Angie Craig will face a yet-to-be-determined Republican challenger.

Most congressional districts in the nation and in Minnesota are considered either firmly Republican or Democratic. That’s not the case in the 2nd District, which comprises much of the south metro area, but also stretches deep into rural south-central Minnesota. 

The combination of near-urban, suburban and rural voters makes the district viable ground for both parties.

The district’s Republican Party Chair, Joseph Ditto, said 2024 is his party’s best opportunity in years to defeat Craig, who won the prior three elections by close margins. 

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This will be her fifth consecutive election on the ballot, having beaten GOP Rep. Jason Lewis in 2018 after falling to him two years earlier.

Ditto said caucus attendance was up from the previous cycle, suggesting area Republicans are fired up. He attributes it to frustration with the Biden administration.

“It wasn’t as high as the 2016 cycle when Trump (first) ran, but it’s the highest we’ve seen in recent years,” Ditto said.

portrait of a man at a parking lot
Second District Republican Party Chair Joseph Ditto says 2024 is his party's best opportunity in years to defeat Craig after her three close wins.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

But before Republicans can make the case directly against Craig, the GOP needs to agree on a candidate.

“The Democrat Party has become a radical party, and they’re fundamentally changing our country for the worst,” said Tayler Rahm, one of two candidates vying for the GOP nod.

Rahm, a law firm owner who lives in Burnsville, spoke to a couple of dozen Republicans gathered in the community room of the public library in the south metro exurb of Farmington on a recent weekday evening.

Rahm described himself as a political outsider and pledged to cut the size, scope and cost of the federal government.

“It’s time to cut the reckless spending, cut the regulations on businesses and allow them to flourish and finally, [the] Department of Education has become the department of indoctrination,” Rahm said. “It’s time to remove politics from the classroom and put parents back in the driver’s seat of their children’s education.”

portrait of a man in suit and tie
Law firm owner Tayler Rahm of Burnsville characterizes himself as a political outsider and is pledging to cut the size, scope and cost of the federal government.
Courtesy of Tayler Rahm

Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor Joe Teirab is also in the GOP contest.

He, too, is focused at this stage mostly on a GOP insider-audience that will determine who will take on Craig in November.  

“A government that’s so big that it gives you everything is big enough that it can take everything away,” Teirab said to the group of Republicans in Farmington. “And that’s exactly what’s happening right now in our state, in our country.”

Like Rahm, Teirab says government is too expensive and too intrusive.

“No more boys competing against girls in high school sports. No more government telling you what kind of car you can drive, what kind of stove you can cook on, what kind of paint you can paint your house with,” said Teirab who added, “Good luck trying to take my AR-15 away from me.”

a man speaks at a classroom
Joe Teirab promotes his candidacy to a couple of dozen GOP activists gathered at the public library in Farmington.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The AR-15 is an assault rifle that has been part of mass shootings across the country. Legislation to curb sales often falls short amid heavy lobbying from gun owners.

Messaging from both candidates is likely to soften from themes that resonate with hardcore partisans to those that have broader appeal as the campaign pivots to general election mode.

Both Republican hopefuls agreed to honor the party’s endorsement and step aside if the other wins it next month.

Also looming large is the presidential race, which is shaping up as a rematch between Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump.

Since 2016, the presidential election years have been the closest outcomes that Craig has been involved in — the one she lost and her 2020 reelection win. 

Craig is already staging for a competitive campaign. This week, her campaign reserved hundreds of TV commercial spots beginning in September. 

In addition to incumbency, Craig has a massive fund-raising advantage. Craig has raked in more than $3 million for this race so far. That’s more than five times as much as her Republican challengers raised combined.

Craig had more than $2 million in the bank to start the year.

Outside groups have also indicated plans to play heavily in the district, one of relatively few targeted races in the country.

In a district where independent voters will prove pivotal, Craig is promoting efforts to reach agreement with Republicans on issues ranging from combatting fentanyl smuggling to stopping congressional pay raises. Five press releases in March alone use “bipartisan” in the headline.

a map of minnesota us house district
Minnesota U.S. House District 2
Elisabeth Gawthrop | APM Research Lab

Craig is also likely to lean into a message that has proven powerful for Democratic candidates in recent years: Access to abortion and reproductive health care.

It was a powerful theme in the midterm election that followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned longstanding abortion protections.

Both Republican candidates favor abortion restrictions, a sharp contrast from the incumbent.

University of Minnesota political science professor Michael Minta said Craig’s support for leaving reproductive care decisions to women — not politicians — should help her with voters. 

“Democrats are definitely going to be driving that home,” Minta said. “I think the strategy is not going to be employed just in Minnesota. Democrats think this is a winning issue.”