The hater's guide to the 2018 election: Congressional toss-ups

In Dean Phillips, is GOP U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen looking at the future of his suburban district?

In Dean Phillips, is GOP U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen looking at the future of his suburban district? AP

Below, find City Pages' guide to close congressional elections in Minnesota this year. Click here for our guide to statewide campaigns, and here for our guide to races in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

1st Congressional District:

Dan Feehan (DFL) vs. Jim Hagedorn (GOP)

Dan Feehan has to defend Tim Walz’s vulnerable fort in southern Minnesota against Jim Hagedorn, the same conservative who came within a single point of toppling Walz in 2016.

Both men have federal credentials: Feehan’s a veteran, former teacher, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration. Hagedorn was a U.S. Treasury employee who’s making a fourth (!) bid to win the seat once held by his father, Thomas Hagedorn.

Hagedorn’s criticism of Feehan is that he’s further left than Walz: an “open borders guy” and a “gun-control person” who wants “socialized medicine.”

Feehan denies none of it. He’s for universal health care and a path to citizenship. Climate change, he says, is “one of our toughest challenges,” which he sees fixed by ending our oil addiction and buying into wind, solar, and biofuels.

Hagedorn also stands by what he’s said on the record. Or written, on a blog he used to maintain. Things like: Barack Obama’s campaign is a “low-budget remake of... Coming to America.” And same-sex marriage is “ass-backwards behavior,” consensual gay sex is “an abomination,” and Sarah Palin is “HOT.”

Feehan’s no shill. He’s mused on challenging the speakership of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if Dems steal back the House.

Hagedorn sees any Democrat as a roadblock for Donald Trump. “If people like Dan win, there’s going to be resistance, there’s going to be impeachment,” he says.

Minnesota’s 1st is one of the last honestly drawn swing districts in America; they’ll all count.

“Impeachment”? We’ll see. But “resistance”? Yeah, that might just happen if Dan Feehan holds one of the trickiest and most important districts in America.

2nd Congressional District:

Angie Craig (DFL) vs. Jason Lewis (GOP)

Just think how delicious it’d be if the person who ousted GOP Rep. Jason Lewis was someone like Angie Craig.

Craig, a former St. Jude Medical executive and married lesbian who lives in Eagan, fell short to Lewis in a squeaker election in 2016. The loss meant these suburban cities are represented by a former radio-show host who once compared same-sex marriage to rape, and warned listeners of an impending race war.

One who was mad he couldn’t call a woman a “slut” anymore:

“How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen,” he once said on the air. “But is that really something that’s going to be seared in your memory that you’ll need therapy for?”

These are just a few of the gems Lewis unveiled for listeners in his past career. They’re resurfacing now, as a righteous tide of wronged women have started calling out men who abused and oppressed them.

Lewis made a living demeaning the experiences of women. Then he took that brain out of a radio booth, to Washington, and assumed not just influence but actual power.

As the country gravitates toward political poles, Craig is the rare centrist, unsure about “Medicare for all,” and crediting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for “an important role in stopping drugs and human trafficking.”

District 2 is where a lot of families go to send their kids to good schools and enjoy suburban life. The moms in those households are worried about what kind of world their kids will inherit.

Maybe District 2 decides it’d rather have an accomplished woman in power, and that men like Lewis shouldn’t have microphones, let alone seats in Congress.

3rd Congressional District:

Dean Phillips (DFL) vs. Erik Paulsen (GOP)

Erik Paulsen looks like your friend’s dad who’s an eighth-grade algebra teacher. But the five-term incumbent actually sucks at math. Problem 1: He votes in step with Donald Trump’s position 98 percent of the time. During a recent debate, Paulsen insisted his mind-meld with the president was no big deal because, hey, even Amy Klobuchar supports 90 percent of them.

Erik has the wrong sum: Klobuchar only votes with Trump 30 percent of the time, and Mr. Paulsen thinks you kids are suckers.

The public could confront Paulsen about his deception if he ever answered to them. Less than 3 percent of his war chest comes from small-dollar individual donations, and he went a six-year stretch without a town hall meeting. He leaves it to young staff to condescend to the senior citizens and people with disabilities who come knocking at his Eden Prairie office. Over their objections, Paulsen voted for tax cuts that would raise the national debt by $1.5 billion, clearing the way for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Challenger Dean Phillips is an heir to the Phillips Distilling fortune and recently opened Penny’s coffee shops. The political novice is earning a reputation for Mark Dayton-ian noblesse oblige, as the rich man who turned down a family fortune for public service. Phillips wants campaign finance reform to cut money’s influence, and supports universal health care.

Republicans fear him. Phillips has weathered more than $7 million worth of baffling attack ads, including one that claims he was “charged with ignoring sexual harassment.” This indictment actually refers to a lawsuit Allina Health nurses filed against a doctor in 2007.

Phillips happened to be serving on the hospital board. Yes, and...? The nurses’ attorney came out to explain that Phillips had nothing to do with the case, pausing momentarily to lash Paulsen for exploiting her clients’ pain.

Phillips is untested. Unlike Paulsen, he seems super stoked to meet people face to face. For now, that’s enough. (The bar’s low here, folks.)

7th Congressional District:

Collin Peterson (DFL) vs. Dave Hughes (GOP)

This strip of rural cartilage conjoining Mnnesota and the Dakotas has, for the past 27 years, been the territory of DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.

As Democrats go, he’s about as conservative as it gets, among the last of the Blue Dogs that still hunts. Peterson is pro-life and pro-gun, and has some close Big Ag pals.

He’s pretty much the Republican those mild-mannered GOPers talk about missing since the party veered hard-right and weird. If this doesn’t appeal to you, consider the alternative: Republican Dave Hughes.

Hughes wants to keep Mexicans out, and tells voters “we’ve got to build that wall,” referring to a structure some 1,300 miles from Minnesota’s southern border. He doesn’t much care who pays for it.

He would’ve voted for the Republican-proposed tax cuts, and would vote for more.

Hughes also has mutual man-crush feelings with Donald Trump, who tweeted out an endorsement for Hughes (misspellings included), whom the harasser-in-chief called “strong” on “our 2nd Amendmen,” [sic] and had the president’s nod to defeat the “Pelosi Liberal Puppet Petterson.” (Does he really not read them before hitting the button?)

Of his middle-of-the-aisle reputation, Peterson says he tries to “work with whoever makes sense,” and so he ends up “making the Democrats mad half the time and the Republicans mad half the time.”

A Blue Dog without fangs is less likely to hurt you than, say, a man who loves building walls as much as his gun collection.

8th Congressional District:

Joe Radinovich (DFL) vs. Pete Stauber (GOP)

Consider the childhoods of the two men seeking the seat vacated by DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

As a teenager, Joe Radinovich cradled a suicidal family member’s head in his hands, and saved his life. Then Joe’s mother was murdered by her step-grandfather, who also killed himself. If he hadn’t already, Joe grew up that year. He faced tragedy, and had to learn from pain—turn it into wisdom, as the ancient Greeks taught.

Pete Stauber was a golden-boy hockey star, lucky in life, a winner—even if he had to cheat to do it, which he did in the 1988 NCAA Championship Game. Stauber made his name on an ice sheet. Radinovich won his in the state House of Representatives, as an immediately capable and principled study of policy and ethics.

In 2013 Radinovich took a vote to legalize gay marriage, knowing it might sacrifice his seat. (It kinda did.) At that time, Stauber was on the St. Louis County board, fighting a $10-a-year vehicle tax that would’ve paid for road repairs. How brave.

Stauber thinks he’ll win because he stood on stage in Duluth with Donald Trump, grabbing the president’s microphone for an ugly little speech. (“I didn’t expect him to do that,” Trump said, shrugging.)

Radinovich thinks he should win, because he wants to help hard-scrabble towns founded on now-empty mines and a naturally rich and gorgeous natural environment. (Radinovich means to protect it; Stauber not so much.) The 8th District should pick the younger man in this race, Radinovich, because he had to grow up fast, and reject Pete Stauber, because he still hasn’t.