Unpacking Jason Lewis’ Win in MN CD2
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, in the midst of a dizzying array of Republican wins and holds at all levels, the Associated Press called Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District for Jason Lewis. With that call, a year and a half long saga came to its final triumphant conclusion for Minnesota Republicans in the south metro of the Twin Cities. The man who made his name as America’s Mr. Right is headed to Washington to represent the people of suburban Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Long Road and Winding Road
In late August of 2015 I was back in St. Paul for my day off from my position at the time in Iowa, organizing for the Iowa caucuses. While having lunch with a friend who rotates in MNGOP circles, they asked about my thoughts on the newly open CD2 seat since Congressman John Kline had announced his intention not to run for re-election in 2016.
“There’s no way that Jason Lewis doesn’t win the nomination, at the convention and the primary as well.”
The reaction was something between an eye roll and a look of shock (pretty impressive, really). They then produced a rundown that would become canon within MN Republican staff circles over the coming year and a half- namely that he couldn’t overcome “controversial” statements made during his time as a nationally syndicated radio host. I countered with my basic thesis that held up during the cycle-
A. There really wasn’t much to try and seize on, and of the 3 or so statements that opponents tried to make into campaign issues, all were taken wildly out of context.
B. They were all useless in the coming Republican convention and primary elections because his statements were within the context of criticizing liberal firebrands like failed Congressional candidate Sandra Fluke. To truly go after Lewis on his statements on Fluke, Republican opponents would be staking out attacks from liberal ground. Clearly a losing strategy to win a GOP primary.
In addition, Lewis entered both the primary and the general with a decisive, natural name ID advantage that proved impossible for his successive foes to ever overcome. Lewis’ time as a conservative radio host, despite all his opponents attempts to turn it against him, was an overwhelming positive.
Minnesota has a funny system to national eyes. Parties hold a convention of delegates to bestow an internal Party “endorsement” before entering an open primary, which is what actually determines ballot access. Then you jump into the general.
Lewis won all 3 phases. He defeated his main competitor for the Republican convention (Gerson), for the Republican primary (Darlene Miller), and for the general election (Democrat Angie Craig).
Each step of the way, he and his campaign took far more slings and arrows than they deserved given his inherent advantages as a communicator and a candidate. The fundamental strengths of Lewis’ candidacy were constants that endured the entire cycle- the average voter had some knowledge of him as a media figure, he is popular among those who are politically right of center, and he is a fantastic communicator.
One interesting take on the CD2 race came from Sam Brodey over at Minnpost- namely that National Democrats made a #yuuuuge mistake in working overtime to tie Lewis to Trump. Trump wound up winning CD2, an eventuality that the DCCC clearly didn’t weigh out, so Democrats’ core attack on Lewis (particularly through torrents of direct mail) was more of a help than a hindrance.
One more (extremely local) angle is that Lewis’ win will likely help revitalize the CD2 Republican Party. In the past few years, the local Party had come to be defined by infighting between opponents, and loyalists, to incumbent Rep. John Kline. Lewis’ election offers the opportunity to move past the Republican-on-Republican violence within the local Republican parties that has raged the past few cycles. If you’re a conservative activist who isn’t happy with Jason Lewis as your Congressman, you ain’t never gonna be happy.
Who Wins From This
Congressman Tom Emmer backed Jason Lewis from his May convention win on. Always an adroit political observer, and stalwart booster of fellow Republican candidates, Rep. Emmer did a tremendous amount in Minnesota and on the national stage to make people realize that Lewis was a strong candidate.
The National Republican Congressional Committee
A lot of Minnesota state-side operatives believed that the NRCC wouldn’t invest in the CD2 race- but they did, and in a big way. They made a large investment (approx $2 million in airtime) in the CD2 race and it paid off with a Republican hold in the district this year.
Ashlee Rich-Stephenson & Just Win Strategies
One of the unsung advantages that Lewis had this cycle was a hard working, smart, and nationally well liked General Consultant in Ashlee Rich-Stephenson. From the earliest days of the campaign, Lewis’ campaign connections with her helped to boost national credibility and counteract the Democratic pushed attacks through earned media. Just Win Strategies truly lived up to its name with the CD2 race.
Another criminally underrated part of Lewis’ success was Campaign Manager Jack Dwyer. Outspent, and outgunned on the ground in terms of resources, Jack led an insurgent style in-district campaign that did more with less to great effect. He wore a lot of hats for the campaign and executed multiple job titles very well.
Jason Lewis heads to Washington D.C. on Sunday to join 237 other Republican House members and to start setting up to serve the people of Minnesota’s 2nd. He’ll be a great addition to the U.S. House.