Paulsen & Lewis Redux: A Tale Of Two Congressmen, Updated

Spoiler: Lewis is winning, Paulsen is losing.

Eight months ago I wrote about Representatives Erik Paulsen & Jason Lewis. That’s a decent enough amount of time to have gone by and I wanted to assess where their respective races were at now. I also wanted to see what I got right about each of them and what I got wrong in the more-than-half-a-year that has gone by since then. As I wrote at the time, I want both men to win. I still do.

Lewis has continued to be a strong candidate, defending his votes in the House and going on offense against his opponent, Angie Craig, who he defeated in 2016 against most of the “smart set’s” expectations. Since that time, it has to be said, the smart set on both the local and national levels have proven anything but.

Humorously, Lewis recently came under media “scrutiny” for spending a decent amount of his office budget on mailers and other communications to constituents. The reality is that this is just smart and the media trying to make an issue where none exists is your first sign of it. He’s active in and out of the district and on social media.

Lewis is not afraid to engage with critics and his willingness to do so sets him apart from Paulsen, who has remained in what I called last September “a permanent, defensive crouch.” Lewis has a naturally gregarious personality and this helps him enormously in the retail aspect of campaigning.

He recently took on the much loathed Metropolitan Council, an unelected, autocratic body with powers no bureaucracy should possess. As Alpha News’ Christine Bauman reported “Lewis’ proposal, an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 2018, would end the noncompliance and require the Met Council to have locally elected officials on the governing board. Lewis highlights the Met Council’s independent authority to raise taxes, saying having local elections is a necessary step to increase the accountability of the governing board.”

This raises the obvious question: why hasn’t any Minnesota Republican member of Congress seen fit to do this before the freshman Lewis? The answer is leadership.

Too many Republicans talk a good game while campaigning only to comprehensively ignore the promises made to voters once in or returned to office. This can be seen on the state level with the disastrous legislative session in Saint Paul coming to a pathetic, omnibus bill-inside-an-omnibus bill conclusion.

Lewis recently announced three in-person town halls. He’s held telephonic town halls before but will now be appearing personally. Naturally this wasn’t enough to satisfy the Regressive Left, leaving Angie Craig to whine about the fact that people have to email to secure a ticket. Somehow I think the voters of CD 2 will not find this a barrier. Town halls have been weaponized but Lewis is more than their match. Watch and see.

Becky Alery, Lewis’ campaign manager, is a singular talent in his reelection bid and I mean no slight to others on that team. She seems omnipresent on social media, with deft, savvy and the sometimes appropriate cutting response to the tiresome, fact-free narratives advanced against her boss. She simply shines and puts her opponents to shame. Clones, please.

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On balance then, Lewis has only improved his position since last fall, building on the strengths I identified there and adding some that couldn’t have been foreseen. His approach is the perfect mix of respect and “bring it,” showing the voters in his district that he’s doing in office what he said when trying to get elected. It would be foolish for anyone to get over confident in what is seen as a toss up but I think at bottom the race is his to lose.

Unfortunately, Paulsen’s position has only eroded since I last wrote. Don’t take my word: not one but three national handicappers have moved the CD 3 contest from “leans Republican” to “toss up.” That trend is not his friend.

Alarmingly, he seems not to have adjusted his campaign in any meaningful manner. In fact, he’s done several things that make it less likely that Republicans will come out in the numbers needed for him to return to D.C.

Incomprehensibly, he was one of only two epublican votes in the House against “right to try” legislation that would give the terminally ill the ability to try experimental medicines or treatment. He’s already seen as a tool of the medical device & pharmaceutical industry, did he have to prove it?

Just this week he signed onto gun control legislation and was immediately criticized for it by both sides of the issue. Can someone kindly tell me what he’s thinking?

The problem with Minnesota Republicans trying to curry favor with the Regressive Left is that they never get it and they risk losing their base in the process. Paulsen hasn’t held an in-person town hall for over six years, a fairly indefensible position to maintain in the current political environment. Perhaps he thinks he can ride out this cycle without such an appearance but the optics are of timidity and, well, cowardice.

Why not play against type, moot himself against faux hostile audiences and, when ready, hold a town hall? Paulsen could do himself a big favor by showing up and letting liberals reveal themselves for the nasty, angry people they mostly are. Simply by being civil, and Paulsen is a profoundly civil and decent man, he’d win.

He won his last election by 13 points in a district that Lady Macbeth carried by ten. That’s impressive and credit is due. My concern is that everything has changed since the election of Trump, at least with respect to the organized opposition deftly stitched together by his challenger Dean Phillips, if nothing else. Yesterday between 250 and 300 volunteers showed up for one of his events. This is impressive and there’s no denying that. Paulsen has never had as big a target on his back than he does now. Has anyone told him? Is there a blow torch capable of piercing the bubble?

Paulsen may yet be saved but probably not by someone he’d prefer: Trump. My hunch is that President Trump (I never tire of typing those two words) will nationalize the immigration issue, as well as the Second Amendment. A booming economy and foreign policy successes will only add to the persuasive argument that he needs more republicans in Congress to help him get the job done. We’ll see if that is enough to offset Paulsen’s alienation of his base.

In the midterm elections, I believe Republicans will gain seats in the Senate and keep the House. Naturally, not all House seats will be kept. It will be a shame if Minnesota Republicans lose CD 3, because once they do, they’ll have no idea how to get it back. Believe me.

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In addition to Alpha News, John Gilmore is also a contributor to The Hill. He is the founder and executive director of Minnesota Media Monitor.™ He blogs at MinnesotaConservatives.org and is on Twitter under @Shabbosgoy. He can be reached at John@alphanewsmn.com

Photo credit: WCCO television

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