Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District stands out as a lone splash of red this year on election prognosticators’ maps, which otherwise show mostly blue shifts as Democrats prepare for a big night Tuesday.
Democratic Rep. Richard Nolan’s retirement has left an open seat that Republican Pete Stauber, a retired police officer, seems poised to claim, riding a wave of support tied to President Trump’s economic policies.
Analysts said Democratic candidate Joe Radinovich, a former state representative, has been weighed down by his party’s perceived antipathy toward mining, which is a serious headwind in an area dubbed the “Iron Range” because of its place in the local economy.
“The mining issue has become a kind of litmus test for Democrats,” said Tim Lindberg, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota.
Mr. Radinvoich has actually embraced mining in his campaign, but Democrats’ general association has essentially stuck, said Barbara Headrick, a professor at Minnesota State University.
That’s helped turn a traditional swing seat into a GOP-trending district this year.
The latest New York Times/Siena College poll had Mr. Stauber up about 15 percentage points in mid-October.
Analysts said that likely overstates the actual lead — just as the same poll’s September survey showing Mr. Radinovich up 1 point was probably too generous to Democrats.
“It’s been a district trending in that direction, and the Republicans are very optimistic that they are going to get it solidified this year,” Ms. Headrick said.
Three out of the district’s past four elections have come down to razor-thin margins, with the victor edging out the competition by only 1 percentage point. This was true for both parties, when Chip Cravaack wrestled the seat away from Democratic control in 2010 with 48.6 percent of the vote to longtime Rep. James Oberstar’s 47 percent.
Mr. Nolan then defeated Mr. Cravaack in President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, but then his next two races in 2014 and 2016 were again super-tight.
Notably, Mr. Trump won the district in 2016 by a sizable margin, making it a prime target once Mr. Nolan retired.
It’s also a seat where the president’s tough trade policies, including tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, play very well.
Mr. Stauber backs Mr. Trump’s hard-line trade policies, while Mr. Radinovich has been critical of their impact on farmers.
As the tariffs issue exploded, it became tougher for Democrats to sway their traditional base of support, in a district already trending more rural.
“It’s no longer the district that everybody remembers, who grew up in Minnesota 20 years ago when it was a strongly Democratic district,” Mr. Lindberg said.
The Stauber campaign said it’s keeping its foot on the gas in the final rush to Election Day.
“Momentum is on our side, but this is game time and we are excited for the next five days,” said campaign spokesperson Caroline Tarwid.
The Radinovich campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans have another chance to strike in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which covers the southern edge, where Democrat Rep. Tim Waltz is vacating his House seat.
Election forecasters have marked the race as a tossup. An October poll from KSTP/SurveyUSA has Democrat Dan Feehan with a narrow edge over Republican Jim Hagedorn.
But Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen is struggling in another district in the suburbs of Minneapolis. A poll in September gave Democratic challenger Dean Phillips a 5-point lead, and prognosticators say the seat leans Democratic.
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