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Is Democrat Rep. Angie Craig in jeopardy?

If the election were held today, some say it would be a GOP wave election. But some also note that the election is a year away, 'an eternity' in politics.

Rep. Angie Craig COVID relief.jpg
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, left, takes a walking tour of Lake City with Michelle Larson, the then-executive director of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce August 21, 2020. Craig visited businesses in Lake City and Red Wing that day to learn about the needs of businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
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U.S. Rep. Angie Craig represents a Minnesota congressional district that is often a fair barometer of the country's mood.

In 2018, when the congresswoman from Prior Lake won her first election, it was part of a wave election that resulted in 41 seats swinging into the Democratic column, largely in repudiation of President Trump's Twitter-happy, chaotic leadership style.

Two years later, Craig eked out a 2 percentage point victory over her Republican opponent, Tyler Kistner, an outcome that mirrored the 50-50 split in the Senate and the tiny, three-seat Democratic majority in the House.

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Today, Craig faces a grimmer political environment. Midterm elections are still a year away. But if the election were held today, some prophesy it would be another wave election -- but this time to the Republicans' benefit.

"If the election were held today, she would not get re-elected," political analyst Steven Schier said. "But the elections are not being held today. A year is an eternity in politics."

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Schier argues that three things need to happen for Democrats to have a fighting chance in the 2022 midterm elections: The pandemic needs to recede, inflation needs to be reined in, and the economy has to continue to grow.

"Those are three big things," Schier said.

The canary-in-the-coal-mine moment for Democrats was the election earlier this month of gubernatorial GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, a state that President Joe Biden won by 10 points, and the near-victory of GOP candidate Jack Ciattarelli in New Jersey. Both states are considered "blue," or reliably Democratic.

Local issues, such as education and the economy, dominated the races, but political observers also viewed the outcomes as signaling public dissatisfaction with what critics call Democrats' overreaching agenda in Washington.

Recently, pollster Mark Penn and former New York City council president Andrew Stein warned that Democrats could lose up to 50 seats and control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they remain on their current course and in thrall of the progressive agenda. Craig likely would not survive such a tidal wave.

"The history of the 2020 election is undisputed: Joe Biden was nominated for president because he was the moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders and then elected president as the antidote to the division engendered by Donald J. Trump," they write. "But polling on key issues show that voters have been turning against the Biden administration, and rejecting its embrace of parts of the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playbook."

The surprising outcomes in Virginia and New Jersey followed months of squabbling between Democratic progressives and moderates over the rollout of Biden's legislative agenda. Progressives used their voting bloc as leverage and refused to pass a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package unless it was simultaneously paired with a $1.7 trillion social safety net and climate change bill. And for months, nothing got done

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Democrats got a win last week when Congress passed the infrastructure bill. It came after the party's awful showing in New Jersey and Virginia.

Proof Democrats can legislate

Craig was back in her district this week, and in a telephone interview touted the legislation's benefits to the 2nd District and the state. The bill, which will be signed into law by Biden on Monday, represents a "historic investment in our highways, roads and bridges, and broadband, and, importantly, our ports system," she said.

It will mean an infusion of $4.5 billion into Minnesota's highway system, with $300 million for bridges, $100 million for broadband development and $1.7 million for cybersecurity.

"The great thing about investing in physical infrastructure is all these jobs are local jobs," Craig said. "I'll just point out that in four years of the leadership of the past administration, they didn't get any infrastructure passed. In the first year of President Biden's term, we have the largest investment in highways, roads and bridges in my lifetime."

Craig, who belongs to the center-left New Democrat Coalition, said she did not agree with progressives' tactics of holding the infrastructure legislation hostage to their demands.

Asked about her electoral prospects next year, she said the public wants "to see that we can legislate."

"And up until last weekend, they didn't see evidence of that," she said. "We got the infrastructure bill across the finish line, which I think is the first step in proving that we can legislate. If New Jersey and Virginia aren't a wake up call, then we're not paying attention."

Craig said she supports the "Build Back Better" legislation in its current form, because it will expand access and lower the costs of health care. It will also be a major investment in working families and rural communities.

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"I fought like hell three weekends ago on allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices," she said about the bill. "There's so much good in this bill that I think we have to do a better job of explaining overall why it's good."

Energy, momentum building

Minnesota's 2nd District currently covers the southern Twin Cities metro area and all of Scott, Dakota, Goodhue and Wabasha counties. Its swing-state status comes from the fact that it has a little bit of everything in it: Suburbs and some urban areas in the district's northern parts and rural areas and agriculture to the south. But the election next year will take place amid redrawn congressional lines.

CD2 CRAIG AND KISTNER
Angie Craig and Tyler Kistner

Kistner, a Marine veteran and Prior Lake small business owner, said he senses "an energy and momentum building" in his campaign, in contrast to the less favorable mood that predominated in the leadup to 2020 election.

People are exercised and frustrated about many issues, including education and the rising cost of food, gas and energy. And the strong GOP showing in Virginia and New Jersey has had an impact locally.

"You continue to see an excitement and energy and more people reaching out and and wanting to get involved," Kistner said.

Kistner said he was recently talking to John Kline, a Republican who held the seat for 14 years. He told Kistner the mood was reminiscent of 2009 and 2010, when Republicans won a net of 63 seats after former President Obama and Democrats spent a year struggling to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Kistner said people in his district see the Democratic agenda in Washington as translating into increased debt, rising government spending and governmental overreach. But the big issue is the rising cost of living.

"It's families who who are no longer saving up for their children or their futures or saving up for a house," he said. "Now, they're just trying to to budget to ensure they have enough for the groceries."

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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