MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District is one of the few true swing districts in the nation and has become one of the battlegrounds for control of the U.S. House.
That explains why tens of millions of dollars have poured into the state from national Democratic and Republican groups attempting to sway voters, largely with negative advertising that often strays from the truth.
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who flipped the district from red to blue in 2018, is now seeking a third term in CD 2, which extends south from the Twin Cities. Redistricting changed the boundaries, shifting it west into large swaths of Le Sueur County where voters will see Craig's name on the ballot for the first time.
"In Congress we have to apply for the job again every two years," Rep. Craig told KARE 11.
"I'll keep leading from the middle. And voters should know I'm always going to stand up to protect Medicare and Social Security and stand up against Big Pharma."
Craig entered politics in 2016 after a career as an executive at St. Jude Medical, a global medical device company that was headquartered in Little Canada and acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 1977.
She's locked in a tight race with Republican Tyler Kistner, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who came close to defeating Craig in 2020. She won by just two and a half percentage points in a three-way race that included a deceased Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate.
Kistner said recently he feels even better about his chances this time around.
"I'm feeling pretty good. You can see the desperation of the Democrats and it gives you a little bit of light of where the race is heading and the momentum of one side over another," Kistner told reporters at a state capitol press conference.
When Kistner and Craig debated at Dakota County Technical College last month, he pushed back against Democratic claims that he favors a ban on abortion without any exceptions.
"I will never do anything to jeopardize woman's health rights," Kistner remarked.
"I'm pro-life with the exceptions of incest, rape and the life of the mother. But this issue should be left to the states."
Craig said it's an area of life that shouldn't be left to politicians to decide.
"Reproductive rights. Freedom! When in the hell did the Republican Party become the party of telling people what they can do in their doctor's offices?"
Kistner and national Republican groups have coated the airwaves with ads that blame President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats for fueling inflation with large spending bills. The ads are filled with images of Craig at a bill signing with the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"What made me run for Congress again was these disastrous policies of Joe Biden, Congressman Craig and their Democratic allies, who make it harder for us to just have affordable lives," Kistner asserted at the debate.
Craig acknowledged that inflation is tough on families, but is a worldwide phenomenon caused mainly by COVID-related supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"It's been a tough two and a half years for Americans. There was no doubt we were going to have challenges, but I've been focused on working for solutions."
The footage in attack ads shows her with Biden at a bill signing ceremony for legislation she authored closing the family glitch in the Affordable Care Act, making health care coverage more affordable for families.
"I'm proud that I was able to get that fixed, to help families like the Kruegers," Craig said, calling attention to the family from Savage that brought the coverage gap problem to her attention.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the largest statewide law enforcement organization, endorsed Craig's bid for a third term. The group cited Craig's work to pass a law that extends survivor benefits to families of police officers who die by suicide due to job-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie appeared in one of Craig's campaign ads thanking her for going to bat with the Dept. of Justice to help local agencies get C.O.P.S grants to help hire more officers.
Leslie also thanked Craig for being the first Democrat in the state's congressional delegation to condemn Minneapolis Ballot Question 2, which would've replaced the MPD with public safety department and removed minimum police staffing quotas from the city's charter. The city's voters rejected that charter amendment.
But, just the same, Republican political action committees and independent expenditure groups have flooded ads accusing Craig of siding with those who tried to defund the police.
"It's been disappointing and a little bit egregious that the GOP super PACs are somehow trying to tie me to the 'Defund the Police' movement when I'm literally funding the police."
In 2020 the MPPOA endorsed Kistner. He then was approached by the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union for MPD officers, who asked if they could endorse him. The Second District doesn't include Minneapolis, but Kistner said many MPD officers live in that suburban district.
The wild card in the race is Paula Overby, the Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate who died on Oct. 5. Her name is still on the ballot, and some conservative groups are urging her supporters to vote for her "in loving memory" -- a move that will benefit Kistner.
Political communication strategist Brian McClung of Park Street Public called it a "new low" in Minnesota politics, saying PACs who support Kistner should just come right out and say that.
DFL State Chair Ken Martin pointed out that those who vote for a dead cannabis candidate just to send a message about legalizing marijuana will ultimately harm their cause if they help a Republican win. Democrats have led the charge in Minnesota to legalize recreational cannabis.
In 2020, the Legal Marijuana Now Party candidate, Adam Weeks died before the election but still managed to garner nearly 6% of the vote in that 2nd District race. Weeks had social media posts promoting President Trump and GOP legislative candidates in Minnesota, but those were taken down before he filed for office.
In her previous runs for Congress Overby had carried the banners of the Green Party and the Independence Party. One year she ran in the DFL primary for U.S. Senate.
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Inflation blame game
In 2021, the Poynter Institute's Politifact rated claims that Biden caused inflation as "mostly false" because most of the major COVID-relief spending occurred before he took office.
That was followed up in 2022 by a Politifact analysis that said it was "half true" that large government spending bills were contributing to inflation because government spending is part of the overall spending that increases demand for products and services.
Some economists warned the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Biden signed into law would heat up the economy too fast by giving Americans money to spend, and spending can create inflation by increasing demand for limited supplies of goods and services.
Democrats point out that Congress spent $7 trillion to help offset the economic impacts of COVID-19 before Biden took office. They also note that inflation is worse in Europe, which isn't affected by US government spending.
It's important to note that the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Biden signed in November of 2021 is spending that will roll out across the next decade. It's not all entering the economy at once. The politically divided Minnesota Legislature balked at providing matching funds to take advantage of those dollars.
The $369 million Inflation Reduction Act will also be phased in over a decade. It includes features to reduce the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs, as well as tax incentives to make clean energy devices more affordable.