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Will Newly Revealed Radio Comments Hurt Jason Lewis?

Democrats attacked Minnesota Republican for similar past comments during 2016 race

Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis was attacked during the 2016 campaign for making controversial comments about women when he was a radio talk show host. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis was attacked during the 2016 campaign for making controversial comments about women when he was a radio talk show host. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The latest controversial comments unearthed from Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis’ days as a talk radio host have raised questions about whether the freshman Republican will face a reckoning this fall.

Lewis is well-known for having made sexist comments similar to the ones made public by CNN on Wednesday. Those remarks were a major focus of the Democrats’ 2016 message against him in Minnesota’s 2nd District, yet he still defeated Democrat Angie Craig by 2 points.

But will the national conversation in 2018 — a year that’s seen heightened media attention to misogynistic comments, and high-profile lawmakers felled for allegations of sexual assault — make a difference? 

Unlikely, said one Democratic strategist who followed the 2016 race, calling these latest revelations “all sizzle and no steak.”

Lewis’ team responded similarly.

“This has been litigated before,” said Ashlee Rich Stephenson, the pollster for his campaign. “It’s all part of a package that was rolled out in 2016, cherry-picking from the old stuff and trying to make it new again.”

“It’s not news to anyone that Lewis was a radio show host and it was his job to be provocative,” added Stephenson, who’s part of a Lewis campaign team that’s mostly female.  

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CNN reviewed 15 months of audio from Lewis’ show, which was obtained from Michael Brodkorb, the former deputy chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota who first shared some of Lewis’ comments in 2016. In its story Wednesday, CNN highlighted Lewis’ complaints that women could no longer be referred to as sluts.

“Everyone knew that Lewis said crazy things,” the Democratic strategist said. “No one’s going to parse his comments and say, ‘Well, now that he said he wants to be able to call them sluts, now I’m going to change my vote.’”

In one 2012 monologue that was widely circulated during the 2016 race, Lewis said “young, single women” only care about social issues, don’t know “what GDP means” and are “non-thinking.” Those comments came out early in the race, leading Lewis to first be dubbed a “mini Trump” in May 2016.

The congressman has always maintained those comments were taken out of context. 

Two years ago, Craig and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continually went after Lewis for his remarks. One Craig campaign TV ad from 2016 featured a Republican voter saying he couldn’t “bring himself to vote for Jason Lewis.” 

“Lewis bullies people; insults women and minorities; pits the less fortunate against the rich. It’s not right,” Gary Huusko, a GOP voter from Eagan, said in the ad.  

Craig, who is challenging Lewis again this year, quickly seized on this week’s CNN story. 

“I am deeply disappointed by Rep. Jason Lewis’s remarks about women and the example they provide to the young men of our nation, including my four sons,” she said in a statement Wednesday evening. 

The DCCC chimed in, questioning the incumbent’s “character and his fitness” for office in a statement Thursday.

Democrats are optimistic that Lewis’ fate will be different this year — but not necessarily because of what he said on the radio in the past. 

For starters, it’s shaping up to be a better year for Democrats. Craig, who’s revamped most of her campaign consultant team, could be in position to take advantage of that, especially now that Lewis has a voting record. And unlike 2016, a third-party candidate who received 8 percent of the vote isn’t running. 

Craig ended the second quarter of the year with $1.6 million compared to Lewis’ $1.3 million. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up

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