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Why Is Trump Headed to Duluth and Who Is Pete Stauber?

Minnesota’s 8th District is prime GOP pick-up opportunity in November

President Donald Trump, seen here holding a rally in Kentucky last year, is appearing with GOP candidate Pete Stauber in Minnesota’s 8th District Wednesday night. (George LeVines/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump, seen here holding a rally in Kentucky last year, is appearing with GOP candidate Pete Stauber in Minnesota’s 8th District Wednesday night. (George LeVines/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With a House map full of potential Democratic pick-up opportunities, Minnesota’s 8th District presents a rare bright spot for Republicans.

President Donald Trump is headed to the sprawling northeast Minnesota district, home to the mining region known as the Iron Range, for a Wednesday night rally in Duluth. Republican candidate Pete Stauber’s campaign said he’ll be speaking too.

Stauber, a retired police officer and hockey player, has been milking the president’s visit for all it’s worth, sending out fundraising email blasts in the days leading up to the event and holding a pre-Trump rally event Wednesday morning with supporters in Hermantown.

This used to be Barack Obama territory. The former president carried the 8th District by 9 points in 2008 and 6 points in 2012. But voters here liked Trump’s populist message. They supported him by 16 points in 2016. At the same time, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Rick Nolan held on, winning re-election by half a point. 

But Nolan isn’t running for re-election this year. (After announcing his retirement earlier this year, he recently joined a last-minute gubernatorial ticket ahead of the August primary.)

The DFL didn’t make an endorsement at its April convention and multiple candidates are now vying for the nomination in the August primary. That means Stauber, who was unanimously endorsed at the 8th District GOP convention, has had the race largely to himself with the DFL splintered. 

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Who is Pete Stauber? 

Stauber entered the race last July, well before it was an open-seat race. The St. Louis County Commissioner has been heralded as a top pick for national Republicans, especially after two disappointing finishes from wealthy businessman Stewart Mills, who later blamed the National Republican Congressional Committee for his narrow 2016 loss

Republicans think Stauber fits the district well, especially after Democrats easily attacked Mills as an out-of-touch rich kid who supported free-trade deals.

A former professional hockey player with the Detroit Red Wings operation, Stauber retired from the Duluth Police Department last August after 22 years. He also served two terms as Hermantown City Councilor. His brother was the coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team this year, and Stauber himself tried out for the men’s Olympic team earlier in his life but never made it.

Stauber touts himself as a strong Trump supporter, although he disagreed with the president on cutting funding for Great Lakes restoration and cleanup.

He praised the president’s tariffs on steel imports, calling the announcement of the 25 percent tariff in March “a great day for Northeast Minnesota.”

Trade could be a big part of Trump’s message Wednesday night in Duluth, which lies just south of the Iron Range on Lake Superior. The Range has traditionally been a DFL stronghold where candidates need to run up the score in order to compete the 8th District. But Trump’s populist message has resonated with many working-class voters in the economically liberal and socially conservative area.

The news of the day — the fight over family separations at the border — is likely to come up too. Trump said Wednesday afternoon he’ll sign an executive action addressing migrant family separation stemming from his administration’s policy.

Minnesota’s 8th District is 93 percent white and less than 2 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census

“Pete is a father, a family man and a man of good Christian values. The results of this policy are absolutely heartbreaking and an unfortunate consequence of when parents disregard the law,” Stauber communications director Caroline Tarwid said in a statement Wednesday when asked for Stauber’s position on family separation.

The campaign declined to answer whether Stauber would support any of the proposals currently being discussed by Republicans in Congress. 

“As Pete has said time and time again, Congress needs to leave labels behind and come together to solve this problem and make sure nothing like this has to happen,” Tarwid said. 

Fight for the 8th 

Ironically for a region that’s fallen on hard economic times, the race for the 8th District has been among the most expensive House races in the country during the last two cycles. 

In 2016, when Nolan barely held on, it was the second most expensive race, only outdone by Virginia’s 10th District. Outside groups and the two general election candidates spent $21.6 million, according to OpenSecrets

The cycle before that, when Nolan defeated Mills by less than 2 points in 2014, it was the second most expensive race for outside spending.  

Outside groups have already reserved millions of dollars in fall TV airtime for the Minneapolis market, which makes up about 50 percent of the district, according to Daily Kos Elections. That money will likely be split, though, between several other competitive House races in the state.

Stauber ended the first quarter of 2018 with $293,000 — well ahead of the DFL candidates who got into the race much later — after Nolan announced his retirement from Congress. Stauber’s campaign didn’t know Wednesday how much money it had raised off of Trump’s expected visit. 

On the DFL side, former state Rep. Joe Radinovich, North Branch Mayor Kristen Kennedy, retired TV news anchor Michelle Lee and state Rep. Jason Metsa are running in the Aug. 14 primary.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election race a Tossup.

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