GOP Senate candidate says Trump, Republicans will surprise in Minnesota
The Republican Senate candidate in Minnesota says President Trump’s support is understated in the polls and that the GOP will surprise experts on Election Day because of a backlash against Democrats over the economic shutdown and civil unrest.
Former Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.), the GOP challenger to Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), has been campaigning in-person in Minnesota for months, leaning into a message about how Democrats in the state are harming ordinary workers by keeping businesses and schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lewis says that the destructive elements of the racial justice protests, which started in Minneapolis following the police killing of George Floyd, will drive turnout for the GOP among rural and suburban voters.
And he believes the state’s political realignment, recently underscored by the half-dozen former Democratic mayors in rural parts of the state announcing their support for Trump, will deliver Minnesota to the Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1972.
“President Trump is doing something Republicans haven’t been able to do since Reagan got the endorsement of the Teamsters, bringing the working man and woman back to the Republican Party,” Lewis said in a phone interview. “This is a good thing. We can’t be the party of private equity and lower capital gains rates for carried interest. We have to be the party of the blue-collar worker.”
The Trump campaign is going all-in to win Minnesota and Lewis is hopeful the energy around the president’s reelection will help him defeat Smith, who was first appointed to the Senate following the resignation of former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
Trump fell short in Minnesota in 2016 by only 44,000 votes despite not campaigning or spending on the airwaves there.
The Trump campaign has committed $14 million to turning Minnesota red this year, far outpacing Biden’s spending in the state.
Trump will hold an outdoor airport rally in Bemidji on Friday that Lewis will attend. Biden is also in Minnesota on Friday to tour a union training center and deliver a speech in Duluth, a sign Democrats are taking the challenge from Trump seriously.
Lewis said the same dynamics that turned Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania red for the first time in decades in 2016 have Minnesota at the tipping point in 2020.
“The Democrat Party has left the working man and woman,” he said. “You can’t reconcile the Green New Deal, the trust fund environmental left, the academic left, with the traditional constituencies of the Democrats in Minnesota. It’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the farmers and laborers have been left out in the cold.”
The polls show a tough climb for Trump in Minnesota.
Biden has opened up a 10.2-point lead over Trump in the RealClearPolitics average, helped by a spate of five surveys this month that have found him ahead by between 8 points and 16 points.
Before that, the polls had tightened significantly, with several showing Trump within the margin of error of Biden in the state.
Lewis’s own internal poll, conducted at the end of August, found him within 2 points of Smith. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Citizens United PAC and Susan B. Anthony List are all spending on Lewis’s behalf. It’s possible the National Republican Senatorial Committee will jump into the race if Lewis keeps it close.
Lewis insists the polls are understating support for Trump and Republicans, making the case that so-called shy Trump voters are afraid to express their support for him because of “cancel culture” and fears they’ll be hounded by Democrats and the news media.
He said there is “palpable” energy on the ground for Trump outside of the Twin Cities metro areas, as boat parades and “MAGA meetups” spring up in rural parts of the state despite the pandemic.
“I think the silent majority is much greater, obviously due to the cancel culture and this fear out there, frankly, among many conservatives,” Lewis said.
“If you’re a Trump guy living close to St. Paul, you’ll be damned if you’re going to put a sign out there for it … people don’t want to deal with the hassle until they pull that curtain [to vote],” he added.
Lewis, a former radio personality, served one term in the House before losing his reelection bid to Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) in 2018, a big year for Democrats.
Lewis represented Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District on the east side of St. Paul and was one of the casualties of the GOP’s suburban weakness in the age of Trump.
The Minnesota Republican has been campaigning throughout the pandemic and has filed a federal lawsuit against Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, arguing that the state’s restrictions on travel and gatherings impinge on his “basic liberties.”
“We said to hell with the lockdown, we’re going to campaign and then we sued the governor,” Lewis said.
“There’s no pandemic exception to the Bill of Rights,” he added.
Lewis said he believes the state’s restrictions that have forced many businesses to close or scale back their operations are a major blind spot for Democrats and the news media, even as polls show broad dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
He says everywhere he goes he hears stories about economic hardship from people out of work, families struggling to home school their children, or elderly people who died alone, even as racial justice activists were celebrated for marching in the streets.
“People resent the fact they were locked down and now [Democrats] are stuck, because they can’t violate their own COVID rules, they have to stay locked down,” Lewis said. “So we’re campaigning. The president is campaigning. Now [Democrats] are finally coming out but I think it’s too little too late.”
Lewis also believes Democrats have overplayed their hand on the racial justice protests, saying they allowed them to grow out of control and will suffer at the polls because of it.
Minneapolis was hit hard by destructive protests, including a police precinct that was set on fire.
Trump has leaned into a message of restoring order, although polls show Biden is more trusted on the issue.
The Trump campaign recently pivoted from its law-and-order message back to the economy, but Lewis believes it is an issue that still resonates privately among many voters in Minnesota.
“Minnesota used to be known for exporting Paul Bunyan but after the governor and both [Twin Cities] mayors decided to stand down when the rioters were at the 3rd precinct …we’re known now for exporting mayhem,” Lewis said.
“I don’t care where your political leanings are … people want to be safe,” he added. “They’re looking at the government’s first job as protecting life, liberty and property, and if it’s not doing that, little else matters and that’s had a huge effect, especially on the suburbs.”
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