The candidates seeking to replace Congressman John Kline in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District continually point to their willingness to reach across the aisle.
It's a required stance in a district that has nearly as many registered Democrats as Republicans. The 2nd District supported President Obama and has routinely elected Republican representatives. It's a district that requires someone willing to work across the aisle.
The two untested candidates — Democrat Angie Craig and Republican Jason Lewis — claim to be the ideal choice to foster bipartisanship in a U.S. House that has struggled with deep party divides, but they also point to each other as being too divisive.
While talking with the Post Bulletin Editorial Board, Craig repeatedly claimed Lewis has said he will seek to join the Freedom Caucus, which includes some of the most conservative House members. Lewis denied it. "I've said I'm going to be an independent voice," he said, acknowledging he knows Freedom Caucus members. "I'm not going to be beholding to any caucus, other than the caucus of the 2nd District."
He also counters by pointing out Craig accepted the endorsement of the Progressive Caucus, which can be painted as the polar opposite to the Freedom Caucus.
Seeking the middle
In discussing issues, the candidates frequently point out where they split with party extremes.
While Lewis cites a need for stronger immigration policy, he says mass deportation isn't feasible. "They idea that we can deport 11 million people is silly," he said.
Craig also wants immigration reform, but her answers concentrated more on citizenship options, saying the Dream Act would be a good first step. "Obviously, there needs to be a path toward citizenship, and it needs to be robust," she said.
However, when it comes to defense spending, Craig says she's more aggressive than her Republican rival, noting full funding is needed as long as ISIS remains a threat. She said passive diplomacy and working with allies must be the first step, but intervention may be an option to fight radicalization.
Lewis, on the other hand, says homegrown radicals are fueled by intervention, as well as talk of barring people from the U.S. based on religious beliefs. He calls for a new approach based on regions rather than religion. "I would start to get tough with some of our quote-unquote Arab allies," he said, noting they tend to trade with groups that foster radical beliefs.
When it comes to one of the more contentious domestic issues — civil unrest — both candidates point to the need for reforms, indicating the war on drugs and federal sentencing guidelines are part of the problem.
Lewis, who roots many of his policy answers in the U.S. Constitution, notes the 14th Amendment calls for decisions to made with equality in mind.
Craig also called for seeking ways to find balance in Congress. "I actually think these are issues that we can find some common ground on," she said.
The lack of legislative votes in either candidate's backgrounds makes it difficult to determine which is more likely to support moderate stances.
Craig has frequently pointed to Lewis's conservative comments on talk radio, but we note the audio clips her campaign use have been proven to be out of context. The Lewis we spoke with is not the same one Craig would have us envision. Likewise, Craig doesn't seem to fit the extreme progressive mold Lewis suggests.
When it comes to one of the biggest issues in the coming year — health care — both candidates note the Affordable Care Act has become too costly for families purchasing insurance through the individual marketplace, and both told us they would push for reforms, rather than repealing the federal program.
"We've got to find a better avenue of health care reform that will hopefully instill more market discipline in the process," said Lewis, who has been critical of the Affordable Care Act from the start.
Craig also has been a keen watcher of health care policy changes. She has administered benefits for St. Jude Medical and grew up without health insurance. As a result, she sees a complex issue ahead.
"I do not think the Affordable Care Act is perfect in any way," she said. "It certainly contributed to access, but it hasn't even begun to tackle affordability."
Both candidates offer insights and promises that could lead to an affordable program without jeopardizing access to health insurance. As with many issues, the proof will only be found when congressional votes are cast.
With that in mind, we are cautiously endorsing Angie Craig for the 2nd Congressional District, with the encouragement that she seek to find that middle ground to best serve her divided district.