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Craig-Kistner rematch in CD-2 is a hot race with high stakes





WASHINGTON – The rematch between Rep. Angie Craig and GOP challenger Tyler Kistner is much more than a referendum on warring ideologies.

It could very well help decide which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives next year, and with so much at stake, it has already attracted plenty of money from across the nation and intense interest in Washington, D.C.

Republicans need to flip only five seats to take back the U.S. House and they are on the offensive, hoping to take advantage of the redistricting process and the historical pattern of loss of seats in a midterm by the party that controls the White House.

And the contest to represent the 2nd District is a rarity in congressional politics – a tossup, according to analysts like the Cook Political Report.

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Craig knows she is locked in a tight race with Kistner, who challenged her in 2020 and lost by a little more than 2 percent of the vote. That first Craig-Kistner matchup was the fifth-closest congressional race won that year. The rematch may be even closer.

“I would expect this to be a margin-of-error type race,” Craig said.

The national parties are heavily involved helping both Kistner and Craig fill their war chests, sending alerts to party faithful to direct donations to the candidates.

Craig raised more than $1 million in the first three months of this year. Kistner, who formally filed as a candidate last week, raised more than $490,000, an outstanding feat for a challenger.

Despite Craig’s fundraising prowess, she is among 33 vulnerable Democrats who are receiving special help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Kistner, meanwhile, is a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) “Young Gun,” considered a top-tier candidate by his party.

So much of the money raised by the campaigns of both candidates, but especially Kistner, is coming from out-of-state.

Kistner for Congress/Facebook

Tyler Kistner and family at the elections office at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 23.

First quarter campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that about 66 percent of Kistner’ individual donations, which totaled $255,900, came from out-of-state donors. About 38 percent of Craig’s individual contributions, which totaled $662,365, came from donors in other states.

First quarter cash raised by donor’s state of residence, top five states, for Angie Craig

Note: Chart represents itemized donations. Donor residence information is not available for all donors who gave less than $200 to the campaign.

Source: Federal Election Commission

First quarter cash raised by donor’s state of residence, top five states, for Tyler Kistner

Note: Chart represents itemized donations. Donor residence information is not available for all donors who gave less than $200 to the campaign.

Source: Federal Election Commission

According to FEC regulations, contributions of less than $200 don’t have to be itemized, only reported in the aggregate. That means the names and addresses of these small donors are not required to be made public. Kistner raised more than $135,000 in these small donations, while Craig raised about $99,000.

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As head of the NRCC, Republican Rep. Tom Emmer (6th Congressional District) is leading GOP efforts to wrest the U.S. House from Democrats. He has donated $4,000 to Kistner’s campaign and his leadership PAC has donated $10,000.

Spending by outside groups on this race is expected to explode this summer. As November’s election gets closer, Minnesotans will be hard pressed to avoid an avalanche of television ads.

The Congressional Leadership Fund’s, a PAC aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, has already reserved more than $2 million worth of airtime in the Minneapolis-St. Paul television market.

“I’m not naïve. I know all of that is coming my way,” Craig said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic House Majority PAC said it plans to spend $6.8 million in on broadcast and digital ads in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Outside groups are also buying air time.

Craig estimates that a total of $30 million to $40 million will be spent by the candidates, their parties and outside groups on the race that will decide who represents 2nd District voters in Congress next year. Kistner’s estimate is smaller, $15 million to $20 million.

Warring ideologies

The race between Craig, 50, and Kistner, 34, provides voters with a choice between two very different ideologies.

With a background in business, Craig leans toward the moderate side of her party. But she is a loyal Democrat, supporting abortion rights and the party’s efforts to address gun violence, including an expansion of FBI background checks on gun purchasers, and more spending on certain social services, including health care.

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Kistner, meanwhile, is nine-year veteran of the Marine Corps and native Minnesotan who is now a Marine Corps reservist and consultant. He and his wife and two young children live in Prior Lake.

After his last tour of duty overseas, Kistner said he and his wife decided it was time for him to leave the active corps and return to Minnesota, where they both have family.

He said his “frustration with the way politicians work” and “the insanity that is D.C.” prompted him to run for public office four years ago, when he first challenged Craig. He said he knew nothing about running for office.

“We had to Google ‘how to start a campaign,’” he said.

Kistner is a conservative Republican and who has won the endorsement of key GOP figures including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and former President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

He has adopted some Trump policies in his campaign platform, including a hard line on immigration and accusations that schools are fomenting racial discord by teaching “critical race theory,” a 40-year-old academic concept that maintains that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

“The contrast between me and Mr. Kistner couldn’t be more clear,” Craig said. “I think we will have a very robust campaign.”

Despite his embrace of some Trump concepts, Kistner has not asked for the former president’s endorsement, saying “I’m running my own independent race.”

“I love the fact that this campaign is truly about the candidates and the best representation for the district,” he said.

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President Biden’s sagging job approval numbers, inflation and high gas prices and the perception that the economy is flagging have provided strong headwinds pushing against Democrats. Kistner is taking advantage of that.

“You have households struggling with inflation and supply chain problems,” Kistner said. “Everybody feels it when they go the gas station. Everybody knows it when they go to the grocery store.”

First elected in 2018, Craig has a compelling life story. She was raised in a trailer park in Arkansas by a single mother and became a top executive of the St. Paul-based St. Jude Medical Foundation. She and her wife, Cheryl Green, have four children.

She is running on her experience and accomplishments in office, including U.S. House approval of a bill that would reduce insulin costs and steering millions of federal dollars to the district for special transportation projects and other needs.

Abortion as a wedge issue

Her campaign is hitting Kistner hard on the fact that Trump appointed Supreme Court justices are very likely to vote with other Republican-appointed justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark opinion that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.

“My primary concern is not about the politics of the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Craig said. “However, the vast majority of voters in the country and my district don’t want Roe overturned.”

Kistner said he is “pro-life,” but would support abortion if the life of a mother were in danger and in the cases of rape and incest.

The new 2nd

The boundaries of the 2nd Congressional District have shifted slightly since last matchup between Craig and Kistner. The district lost Wabasha and Goodhue counties, gained Le Sueur County as well as five precincts in Woodbury.

“The new district contains 92 percent of my voters,” Craig said.

While redistricting may not make much of an impact on the race, other things could help decide its outcome. A bad sign for Democrats is that Republican voters have turned out at the polls in much greater numbers in primary elections this year, including the one for the 1st Congressional District seat in Minnesota.

“The situation does not look all that great for Democrats,” said Tim Lindberg, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Morris. “Republicans are motivated.”

But Lindberg said things could change before November’s election. The Supreme Court’s formal decision on Roe, expected in late June, could motivate Democratic voters, especially suburban women.

“(Craig) would be wise to use abortion as a wedge issue,” he said.

Lindberg also said inflation could recede and supply chain problems could be resolved, helping Democratic candidates.

He said the key to both candidates is to avoid tying themselves too closely to the extremes of their parties even in these very polarized times, when “it doesn’t matter as much who you are, it matters what party you belong to.”

“The key to winning that district is winning the independent voters,” Lindberg said.

MinnPost reporter Greta Kaul contributed to this article.



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