Prior Lake lawyer Rick Olson checks off all the boxes of rabid-dog conservatism. He's anti-gay and anti-union. He doesn't believe health care is a “human right.” Nor does he back emergency red flag gun laws that allow families to intervene when they suspect a relative may soon go postal.
Olson also has the boilerplate scare tactics mastered: “I love America and the personal freedom and free-market system, which allowed my wife and I to come from nothing and live the American Dream, which is now being put at risk in favor of rising calls for socialism.”
So read his email announcement challenging Democratic Congresswoman Angie Craig next year in a district covering the Twin Cities' southern suburbs.
Olson is former Michigan state representative who served only one term before his district boundaries were redrawn. At one point he even considered turning Democratic, proving his beliefs may be more elastic than his sloganeering implies.
But he does have one glaring shortcoming that's cause for alarm among GOP voters: Rick Olson believes in science. Or at least some of it. And he's—gasp!—willing to say so publicly. Like, for all the world to hear.
“I reach the conclusion that the climate is changing, that this is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, and that it is urgent we do something to reduce the negative impacts that changing climate will cause,” he writes in his blog. He's even gone so far as to erect solar panels on the roof of his home.
For a huge swath of Republican voters, climate-change denial serves as some sort of strange testosterone substitute. To believe otherwise is tantamount to being nice to immigrant children. Yet if he can make it past the primary, Olson's green may play better than the blistered-earth ideas of fellow Republican Jason Lewis—aka “Mini-Trump”—who lost the seat last year after just one term in office.
Instead of running again, Lewis is challenging Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, believing Republicans stand a better chance in a race that includes outstate voters. Trump is also betting heavily on rural Minnesota, thinking he can win by margins wide enough to compensate for getting crushed in the Twin Cities.
But the GOP brand isn't especially popular in the state right right now. If Trump ran today, he'd lose in a landslide, according to recent polling. And Olson's notions on things like health care and guns are precisely the reason: Suburban white women, once a staple of the Republican coalition, are fleeing the party like a bad date at TGI Friday's Endless Appetizer night.
Finally catching up with the rest of the world on basic science may seem a small act. But it will sand some toxicity off Olson's remaining beliefs.