- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2018

In a year of doomsday predictions for House Republicans, Minnesota is shaping up as a possible bright spot, with the GOP eyeing a chance to flip a seat that’s been in Democratic hands for most of the last 80 years.

Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat, is retiring at the end of this year, putting in play the 8th District in the state’s northeastern corner.

Republicans say the district is changing — after backing President Obama in 2012, it swung heavily for President Trump, who won it by 15 percentage points in 2016 — as national Democrats have tilted leftward, leaving this mining and farming region ripe for a realignment.

Republicans have helped their chances by quickly settling on a candidate with the best chance of flipping that seat. Republican Pete Stauber was unanimously endorsed at the district’s convention in April, and has even earned the endorsement of four mayors in the Democratic stronghold of the Iron Range.

Mr. Stauber, a former St. Louis County commissioner, said he’s hearing from Minnesota Democrats and independents who say the national Democratic Party is too liberal, especially when it comes to pushing environmental regulations that sap the local economy and force young people to move elsewhere for work.

Mr. Stauber said people are already seeing the results of Mr. Trump’s promise to bring opportunity to districts like his.

“He’s delivering that message of putting the American worker first. President Trump is helping to get Washington, D.C., out of our everyday life,” Mr. Stauber said.

One of the president’s biggest deliveries came on mining.

The Obama administration in 2016 had refused to renew mineral leases needed to build a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters wilderness area and the small Minnesota town of Ely, citing environmental concerns. That derailed the mine, which officials had hoped would bring up to 650 jobs over the next 30 years to an area that has been hurting for economic opportunity.

The Trump administration reversed the decision in December allowing Twin Metals — the company overseeing the project — to resume their plans. Even though there are additional hurdles to overcome, the move was seen by many in the region as more evidence that Mr. Trump is on their side.

“President Trump is as popular in the 8th Congressional District today, if not more, than on Election Day,” Mr. Stauber said.

Democrats, officially known in the state as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, acknowledge the race will be tougher for them without Mr. Nolan running for re-election. The DFL has four candidates running to succeed him.

The DFL convention in the district yielded no endorsement, meaning the party will have to wait until after the August primary to solidify support for a single candidate.

Leah Phifer, who was among the top two finishers at the convention, dropped out amid some controversy. The Latino DFL Caucus protested against her during the convention due her experience at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She also said that the party endorsement was crucial for her campaign.

The other frontrunner, former state Rep. Joe Radinovich, has been endorsed by Mr. Nolan. He launched a “listening tour” in the district earlier this month, and has emphasized univeral health care and manufacturing as top issues for his campaign.

The DFL says it will focus on positive messaging and local issues rather than an anti-Trump message.

“You don’t win elections by talking about what you are against — you need to talk about what you are for,” said Ken Martin, the state party chairman. “The DFL is the party fighting for everyday families. We are fighting to ensure every Minnesotan has access to a quality education, affordable health care, and the opportunity to build a better future for their family. DFL values are Minnesotan values.”

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, said it will help with cash.

The DNC will provide a monthly $10,000 investment to state parties across the country, a 33 percent increase from the base funding level in 2016, to remain competitive in local elections.

The state parties will also be awarded grants to create programs targeting millennial voters as well as rural communities.

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