LAKELAND PBS: U.S. Senate Candidate Talks Refugee Resettlement In Bemidji

LAKELAND PBS: U.S. Senate Candidate Talks Refugee Resettlement In Bemidji

Malaak Khattab

U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis held a town hall meeting in Bemidji today to talk about Beltrami County’s recent decision on refugee resettlement, where, in a 3-2 vote, commissioners said no to accepting local involvement in refugee resettlement.

Lewis, a Republican, is running to unseat Democratic Senator Tina Smith in 2020.

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BRAINERD DISPATCH: Lewis stumps for pro-Greater Minnesota platform in Senate bid

BRAINERD DISPATCH: Lewis stumps for pro-Greater Minnesota platform in Senate bid

Gabriel D. Legarde

Former Congressman Jason Lewis talks Thursday, Jan. 23, about the issues in his upcoming challenge to U.S. Senator Tina Smith at the Brainerd Dispatch. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Republican Senate candidate Jason Lewis stopped by Brainerd on the first stop Thursday, Jan. 23, of a multi-city tour in what the former congressman calls a push to connect with rural voters through an unapologetically pro-Greater Minnesota message.

“This is going to be a campaign about Greater Minnesota,” Lewis said. “For far too long Greater Minnesota has been neglected, I think, by some of the state’s federal office holders and that’s gotta be a thing of the past. What we’re seeing is whether it’s on the Iron Range, Crow Wing County, or — doesn’t really matter where it is — there are voices not being heard.”

Lewis has doubled down on that count — spending upwards of six weeks total traveling throughout Minnesota. During this week alone, he planned to stop at Brainerd, Mankato, Luverne, Bemidji, Duluth and Ely before it’s said and done. In contrast, he said, his opponent, incumbent Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., is decidedly rooted in the urban Twin Cities, where the vast majority of her supporters, collaborators and moneyed interests reside.

While Lewis has spent much of his life in the Woodbury suburb of the Twin Cities metro, or out of state in Colorado and Iowa, he said it’s a matter of shared experience to reach rural Minnesotans. This shared experience is one he’s acquired, he said, through years spent in small towns, or vacationing along the Whitefish Chain, or listening to rural concerns about estate taxes, broadband, mining or job development.

Lewis is coming off a downturn in his political career — namely, losing to freshman Democrat Angie Craig by 6 percentage points in the suburban 2nd Congressional District. But the last decade has largely represented a rise to national prominence for the former radio talk show host, whose program was nationally syndicated between 2009 and 2015.

Smith — who Lewis dubbed the “accidental senator” — represents a leftward shift away from the historical balance Republicans and Democrats in Minnesotan have enjoyed in the past.

While he had hoped Smith would be more moderate during her tenure on Capitol Hill, Lewis said, Smith has come to represent the “academic elite,” the “resistance,” and the “professional protester crowd.” He said Smith hasn’t publicly opposed progressive initiatives like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, although he acknowledged Smith hasn’t publicly supported either initiative as well.

On the other hand, Lewis pointed to the 2016 GOP tax bill, which he credited with leading to the lowest unemployment rate in half a century, promoting wage increases for the lowest earning workers, and spurring economic growth across the nation. Successful policies like these represent why President Donald Trump shifted the political paradigm away from decades of Democratic control in 2016, Lewis said, and it points to how he intends to beat Smith in 2020.


At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump spoke Wednesday on the topic of entitlements — particularly, Social Security and Medicaid — and stated any options to rein in entitlement spending would be the “easiest of all things” to counteract a swelling federal deficit that’s tacked on nearly $3 trillion in national debt during his presidency.

Lewis iterated at multiple points that programs like Social Security and Medicaid have to be restructured and reformed to ensure they’re sustainable for the future. Included in the 2016 GOP tax bill was a $200 billion reduction in mandatory spending for entitlement programs — a reduction Lewis lauded. He said this represents one direction the federal government should take to further curb unnecessary spending.

Lewis pointed to Medicaid expansions under Obamacare and noted increased subsidies and coverage for able-bodied, childless adults presented one such case of wasteful investments by the federal government.

“You have to address mandatory spending, because it’s the bulk of the budget. You’ve got a $4.1 trillion budget, literally $3 trillion of that is entitlement spending,” Lewis said. “If we do nothing for Social Security and the money starts to run out in 2035, benefits will be cut by 25% and I won’t stand for that.”

Payroll taxes, which form the lifeblood of Social Security, are an area of focus. Lewis said much of his approach is driven by economic growth and stable, well-paying jobs for employees, in contrast to Smith, which proposes a higher tax rate on people’s wages.

Raising the retirement age isn’t a concern for people who are currently eligible or near eligible to receive Social Security benefits, said Lewis, who noted he’s in favor of maintaining that standard for older Minnesotans, but added a higher retirement age may be necessary to ensure benefits are still around for younger Minnesotans down the road.

Tax bill ramifications

In terms of the 2016 GOP tax bill and its effects on the U.S. economy, supporters, including Lewis, have pointed to a booming stock market and record low unemployment, while critics, including Smith, have noted the bill increased the nation’s debt load by $1.5 trillion and largely benefited wealthier Americans and corporations.

Lewis said the bill incurred a $1.5 trillion debt, but was offset by increased federal revenues that matched and exceeded, if slightly, the burden placed on Washington to fill the gap previously accounted for by tax income. However, Lewis did not specify how the federal government accrued these revenues, or if they would be used to help pay off the nation’s growing $23 trillion debt load, which he termed an “existential crisis” during discussions with the Dispatch.

To better limit spending, Lewis said audits of federal agencies where wasteful spending can be in the billions, including the Pentagon, are in order, as well as accompanying legislation to ensure the budget process is transparent, carefully considered and productive. He noted it has to be a holistic and unsparing approach, not one that favors a particular aspect of government over another.

“You can’t say, we’re going to leave the Pentagon alone and cut social programs. Chuck Schumer would never go for that. At the same time, you can’t say we’ll gut the Pentagon and up spending on social programs. Republicans, rightfully, would never go for that,” Lewis said. “We have to say, ‘Everybody put a limit on the growth.’”

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THE BEMIDJI PIONEER: U.S. Senate candidate discusses refugees in campaign visit to Bemidji

THE BEMIDJI PIONEER: U.S. Senate candidate discusses refugees in campaign visit to Bemidji

Matthew J. Liedke

U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during a town hall on Thursday, Jan. 23, at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Bemidji, Minn. (Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service)

BEMIDJI — A former congressman and candidate for U.S. Senate held an event in Bemidji on Thursday to meet with voters and discuss the refugee topic that’s been circulating in the community for most of January.

Jason Lewis, who’s running on the Republican side to unseat Sen. Tina Smith, held the event where he spoke about his platform, with a focus on the refugee topic, and took questions.

The topic stems from a Beltrami County Board meeting on Jan. 7 where commissioners voted 3-2 to opt out of the United States Refugee Resettlement Program. The action was authorized by an executive order from President Trump, which gave state and local government units the authority to either opt in or out of the program.

Since Jan. 7, the action has become temporarily null after an injunction was issued in federal court halting the executive order. However, the subject has remained a hot-button issue locally.

The Jan. 7 meeting had a crowd of about 200, while the county’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, attracted nearly 150 people. Lewis’ event also had a big crowd, with roughly 100 people on both sides of the issue turning out to hear him speak.

Following the county’s vote earlier this month, Lewis said he supported the decision in a press release. On Thursday, he reiterated his backing of the 3-2 vote.

“What is wrong with a county, in a free country and a free state, saying ‘we’re concerned about costs and we’re concerned about this fiscally, so let’s take a pause?'” Lewis said. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to make certain that you’re not alone. That you’re good people just trying to do what’s best for your community.”

As part of his comments, Lewis said a key part of his support for the county was the local control in the decision.

“What is so scary about local control, when the people clamoring the loudest for sanctuary cities on the basis of local control want nothing to do with an executive order on refugee local control,” Lewis said.

During the question-and-answer part of the event, an attendee asked the candidate about the possibility of changing laws to not allow Muslims to hold office, to which Lewis said, “I would not be in favor of that. Religious affiliation can never be a test for public office. We can do our battles on what it means to preserve what it means to be an American without getting into a religious test.”

Before running for the Senate seat, Lewis, a former radio host, served a term in the United States House of Representatives, winning in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District in 2016. In 2018 he was defeated by Rep. Angie Craig.

On the GOP side of the 2020 race, Lewis is competing with assistant North Central University professor Rob Barrett Jr.

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Isabella Basco

ROCHESTER, Minn. – From Washington D.C. to the streets of Rochester, people in Southern Minnesota are showing lots of support for the commander-in-chief. 

“Well, I think you need to look at what he’s accomplished,” State Representative John Petersburg for District 24A said. 

Jason Lewis, a Senate Candidate running against Sen. Tina Smith agreed. 

“I’ve always told people I don’t run away from good policy,” Lewis said. 

Why do they support him? 

“We reformed the tax code, the first tax reform in over 30 years, we unleashed energy independence from regulatory release,” Lewis said. 

Petersburg says Trump has accomplished a lot. 

“The economy is doing extremely well right now, North Korea is in check, South Korea is starting to soften a little bit,” Petersburg said. 

Despite any controversy – both say Trump is what’s best for our country. 

“Basically he did everything he said he was gonna do, I did everything I said I was going to do in Congress, now everything’s come to a standstill because of this obsession over impeachment,” Lewis said. 

Petersburg says Trump is making Americans’ lives better. 

“We need to understand what he’s doing is making a difference and making our lives better,” Petersburg said. 

Members of the Judiciary Committee will be working through the weekend ahead of their next hearing on Monday, which will focus on the Intelligence Committee’s findings. 

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STAR TRIBUNE: Trump rally jumpstarts GOP push for Minnesota

STAR TRIBUNE: Trump rally jumpstarts GOP push for Minnesota

Stephen Montemayor & Patrick Condon

President Donald Trump’s campaign already has 20 paid staffers in Minnesota, with a goal of having about 100 by next year.

President Donald Trump’s campaign already has 20 paid staffers in Minnesota, with a goal of having about 100 by next year.

President Donald Trump’s case for winning Minnesota in 2020 started with a reminder of what might have been in 2016, when he lost the state by a margin of 1.5 percentage points, or less than 45,000 votes.

“This feels like the day before the election,” Trump told a cheering crowd Thursday at Target Center, calling to mind his impromptu Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport rally on the eve of the 2016 election.

One more rally like that, Trump and his advisers now believe, and he would have reversed the GOP’s decadeslong history of futility in Minnesota going back to the 1972 presidential election, when Richard Nixon carried the state.

Trump’s downtown rally could not be counted on to help him much in DFL-dominated Minneapolis, but it sent an unmistakable signal that Minnesota as a whole — long a backwater of presidential politics — has become a battleground state.

Determined not to make the same mistake twice, Trump’s campaign is planning to pour up to $30 million into the state — compared with just $30,000 to $40,000 in 2016. There are already 20 paid staffers on the ground here, with a goal of about 100 by next year. The last time, Trump’s campaign said, they had only one employee on their payroll in Minnesota, and he was transferred to Colorado before Election Day.

“I think it’s a state that allows us to be on the offensive,” said Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump’s re-election campaign. “Democrats need Minnesota. Is there a path [to the White House] without Minnesota? That’s a question for them, I guess.”

With tears running down their cheeks Brooklyn Hanneman, left, of Lino Lakes and Katie Bohn from Centerville watched President Donald Trump speak Thursday at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Trump campaign officials are looking at Minnesota much the same way as Pennsylvania, where the president won on strong performances in counties outside of the metro areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Minnesota’s emergence as a competitive state in 2020 was evident in the hours before Trump’s visit. Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen, and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, each came to town for a string of events. Earlier in the week, a coalition between the campaign and the Republican National Committee trained about 100 volunteers in Anoka, part of an initiative to deploy more than 1,000 workers in the state.

“It shows a level of commitment that we haven’t seen from national Republicans in decades,” said Alex Conant, a Minnesotan who is now a Republican strategist in Washington and previously worked on presidential campaigns for Marco Rubio and Tim Pawlenty.

Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, said the Trump campaign’s actions in Minnesota are no mere “head fake.”

“This is a real serious play to win this state,” Martin said. Democrats are raising the alarm, while Republicans are waxing hopeful.

Martin acknowledges that Trump’s strength in Minnesota in 2016 took Democrats by surprise, an advantage Republicans won’t have this time. But he questioned Trump’s strategic path to victory. For one, Martin said, Trump must find out how to make up some 45,000 votes — a task made taller by the move toward Democrats in last year’s congressional and legislative elections in some of the same suburban and exurban areas Trump won in 2016.

Trump’s visit previewed the role he’s poised to play in other races in the state next year. As the president stepped off Air Force One, he was greeted by several state GOP politicians with much on the line next year. That included state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who’s defending a slim GOP majority in the upper chamber; and former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, now running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith.

“Look, this is going to be ground zero,” Lewis said in an interview Friday. “It’s going to be fascinating. I do think Minnesota in many ways is going to be a microcosm of the country.”

Lewis said the deepening chasm between urban and rural voters reflects a broader nationwide trend, one he intends to seize on by making a hard play for the state’s increasingly conservative Eighth Congressional District in northern Minnesota while trying to limit Democratic strength in the suburbs.

Gazelka’s soft-spoken demeanor makes for a marked contrast to Trump. But as he maps out a strategy for holding the state Senate, Gazelka said he plans to run with Trump and “point to the substance of what he’s doing.”

Minnesota Republicans lost ground in the suburbs in 2018, and Gazelka said he’s honing his pitch for what’s become the state’s main political battleground.

“What are the things he’s doing, and do you like that?” Gazelka said of Trump. “And if you like that, I’m going to encourage them that’s enough to vote for him.”

Jennifer DeJournett, a GOP operative in Maple Grove, said Trump’s campaign needs to compete in suburban areas where Republicans lost ground last year. She praised the campaign’s early work getting out the vote in reliably Republican rural areas and regional centers but urged them to ramp up tailored messages to suburban voters that highlight positive economic news.

“You can’t lose epically in the cities, underperform in the suburbs and expect greater Minnesota to carry you over,” said DeJournett, who was data director for Republican Jeff Johnson’s 2018 campaign for governor.

A Trump campaign operation has been up and running since June, focusing on Twin Cities-area congressional districts represented by DFL Reps. Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum, both liberal stalwarts.

“We don’t need to win those districts, we just need to incrementally turn out the vote higher than we have in the past,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. “If we’re adding 3,000, 4,000 more votes, that is the difference in statewide races.”

Democrats remain less convinced that Trump can win over undecided or independent voters. Some of those voters, put off by party politics, may opt to stay home because they’re fed up with the excessive partisanship.

“I don’t think there’s that many that are really on the fence,” said Steve Monk of Rochester, a DFL leader in Olmsted County. “[Trump] doesn’t really speak beyond the base so [his rally] wasn’t really doing anything to bring in anybody new.”

Lewis, a former conservative talk radio host, has often been compared to the president for his bombastic political style. He described his campaign as “in sync” with Trump and predicted multiple return visits by the president before the 2020 election.

Lewis is banking on winning over a chunk of the electorate he sees as alienated by the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party. Republicans sought to accentuate that point by railing against the anti-Trump protests around the Target Center.

Calculations are also likely to further adjust depending on who takes the Democratic nomination — a more centrist candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden, or one of the more progressive candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Said Kenza Hadj-Moussa, communications director for progressive organizing group TakeAction Minnesota: “Politics are all about energy, and people are starting to see which campaigns are bringing that.”

Staff writers Judy Keen and Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.

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STAR TRIBUNE: Both Minnesota senators now back calls for Trump impeachment inquiry over Ukraine

STAR TRIBUNE: Both Minnesota senators now back calls for Trump impeachment inquiry over Ukraine

Patrick Condon

FILE – In this March 5, 2019 file photo Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., speaks during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tina Smith on Tuesday became the latest Minnesota Democrat to support an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, joining Sen. Amy Klobuchar and a growing number of centrist Democrats in Congress alarmed over reports that he sought Ukrainian help ahead of the 2020 election.

“I support the House beginning impeachment proceedings, as a matter of national security, and protecting the rule of law and our Constitution,” Smith said in a prepared statement, moving from her previous position that impeachment talk was premature.

Smith cited recent whistleblower allegations that Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate the role of former Vice President Joe Biden — a leading 2020 challenger — in his son’s business dealings overseas.

Smith’s statement came amid growing pressure on Democratic leaders to take action against the president in the aftermath of the Special Counsel investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Smith’s move came a day after two freshman House Democrats from Minnesota, Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, also threw their weight behind impeachment proceedings. It also puts every Democrat in the Minnesota congressional delegation on record as favoring an impeachment inquiry — with the notable exception of Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents a rural western Minnesota district that voted heavily for Trump.

Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in his own statement Tuesday that he’s not on board with fellow Democrats’ calls for an impeachment inquiry over Ukraine.

“If anyone thinks a partisan impeachment process would constrain President Trump, they are fooling themselves,” Peterson said. “Without significant bipartisan support, impeachment proceedings will be a lengthy and divisive action with no resolution.”

That puts Peterson closer to Minnesota’s three Republican congressmen, who are on record opposed to impeaching Trump. Rep. Tom Emmer, who as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee is leading the effort to break the Democrats’ House majority, said Tuesday that impeachment would hurt House Democrats politically.

Democrats “have become so radicalized by their hatred of President Trump that they are willing to plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis based on secondhand gossip,” Emmer said in a statement. “Make no mistake about it: backing impeachment will cost the Democrats their majority in 2020.”

Smith, facing re-election in 2020, immediately came under fire from GOP challenger Jason Lewis, who accused her of rushing to judgment without evidence. “Tina Smith and the Democratic Party have demonstrated time and again that they are all too willing to make a mockery of our Constitution by rushing to judgment and shredding due process in order to score cheap political points with their radical, angry political base,” Lewis said.

After days of relative silence, Republicans in Congress began a political counteroffensive in recent days, questioning the reports of the anonymous whistleblower said to have direct knowledge of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last July. Trump also signaled Tuesday that he was preparing to release a transcript of the disputed call, which his aides said would quell the Democrats’ criticism.

Klobuchar, a candidate for president, called on the White House to make available the whistleblower’s entire report, not only the call transcript.

“Remember it’s the whistleblower complaint we must see,” Klobuchar wrote on Twitter. “Not just one call. Complaint reportedly involves more. It isn’t legal to sell out your country for personal gain.”

Impeachment proceedings appeared imminent on Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing a formal impeachment inquiry, a dramatic reversal for the Democratic leader who had previously advocated a more measured approach.

Trump’s interactions with Ukraine allegedly involved his insistence that the country investigate business dealings there of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was previously prosecuted over his own lobbying work in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department has closed its investigation into work on behalf of Ukrainian interests by Manafort’s one-time associate, Vin Weber, a once-powerful D.C. lobbyist and a former Republican congressman from Minnesota.

An attorney for Weber told the Post that “at all times Mr. Weber acted in good faith and in keeping with the legal advice his company received from the outset.”

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BRAINERD DISPATCH: Lewis challenges Tina Smith, progressives during campaign open house

BRAINERD DISPATCH: Lewis challenges Tina Smith, progressives during campaign open house

Gabriel D. Lagarde

Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis talks with people during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — These aren’t the Democrats of Hubert Humphrey anymore.

And while the U.S. House of Representatives may have swung blue in the 2018 midterms, nor is Minnesota the blue stronghold it once was.

Former Congressman Jason Lewis, who lost his Congressional seat in the 2018 “blue wave,” kicked off his campaign to challenge Sen. Tina Smith with an open house at Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter.

“I’m telling you, in 2020 the stakes could not be higher,” Lewis told the assembled crowd of roughly 20 people. “Speaking of the 1960s, the difference between the Democratic platform and today … you had chaos in the streets, you had all of that in the 1960s, but you still had a few grown-ups in the Democratic party. And I’m telling you that Hubert Humphrey couldn’t get the Democratic nomination.”

Lewis is coming off a downturn in his political career — namely, losing to freshman Democrat Angie Craig by 6 percentage points in the suburban 2nd Congressional District. But the last decade has largely represented a rise to national prominence for the former radio talk show host, whose program was nationally syndicated between 2009 to 2015.

During the open house, Lewis shook hands with visitors and rubbed shoulders with prominent Republican lawmakers in the area — the likes of state Reps. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, as well as Cass County GOP Chairman Fred Hage. Resort owner Dutch Cragun stumped for his longtime friend as well.

Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

During his speech, Lewis lambasted Democrats on Capitol Hill — particularly those that form the face of the emerging progressive wing, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th District, as well as the senator he hopes to unseat: Smith.

He described the Democrats as a party run amok, that seeks to impose its authoritarian will on the American people by “offering everything, except what matters — freedom.”

In turn, Lewis defended the legacies of President Donald Trump and his own stint on Capitol Hill, the 115th Congress. While Democrats, Lewis said, alongside some members of the intelligence community and the national media are quick to attack the president on every issue — real or imagined — Trump and the GOP’s collective efforts to roll back Obamacare, make the largest tax cuts since Reagan and protect American interests in international trade have been a boon for small business owners in Minnesota.

Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Minnesota — which hasn’t selected a Republican presidential candidate since Nixon in ‘72 — is primed to elect Trump for a second term, said Lewis, who noted he looks to ride the same wave of red fervor across the state to his own seat in the U.S. Senate. While it’s been an uphill battle for GOP candidates over the decades, recent elections point to a state shifting conservative — evidenced, Lewis said, by shrinking margins for losers like McCain in ‘08, then Romney in ‘12, and then 2016 for Trump, who only lost by a mere 1.5 percentage points.

And while Trump’s brand of abrasive politics might rub some people the wrong way, Lewis said, people will vote results and good policy over socialistic propaganda from the Democrats. In his perspective, a dividing line of roughly 44,000 swing votes separates the GOP from its goals in the state.

“It’s a binary choice,” Lewis said. “I will tell you, when the top of the ticket is Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders, or Kamala Harris … there’s going to be a whole lot of people that look at that and say, ‘Well, I might not like the tweets, but I’m certainly not voting for that.’”

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ASSOCIATED PRESS: Minnesota oil pipeline fight highlights Democratic dilemmas

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Minnesota oil pipeline fight highlights Democratic dilemmas

Steve Karnowski

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A divisive fight over the future of a crude-oil pipeline across Minnesota is pinning presidential candidates between environmentalists and trade unions in a 2020 battleground state, testing their campaign promises to ease away from fossil fuels.

Progressive candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have condemned a Canadian company’s plan to replace its old and deteriorating Line 3 pipeline, which carries Canadian crude across the forests and wetlands of northern Minnesota and into northern Wisconsin. They’ve sided with environmental and tribal groups that have been trying to stop the project for years, arguing that the oil should stay in the ground.

Other candidates — including home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar and front-runner Joe Biden — have remained largely silent, mindful that such projects are viewed as job creators for some of the working-class voters they may need to win the state next year.

The fight illustrates a hard reality behind the Democratic candidates’ rhetoric on climate change. For months, Democrats vying for the White House have sounded strikingly progressive on the issue, endorsing ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions and putting forward sweeping proposals for investing in the green jobs of the future. But the debate often glosses over the harder, more immediate choices between union jobs and phasing out fossil fuels. Those fights often divide Democrats and may create an opening for President Donald Trump.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 project has generated opposition on two main grounds: that the oil it would carry would aggravate climate change and that it would risk spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters where Native Americans harvest wild rice. Enbridge says replacing the 1960s-era pipeline, which is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking, will be safer for the environment while allowing it to restore the line’s original capacity and ensure reliable deliveries to refineries. Labor unions, once the bedrock of Democrats’ support in northern Minnesota, backed the plan on the promise it will create scores of new jobs.

Regulators in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin have given the necessary approvals, and some work on those segments already has been completed. In Minnesota, the Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge is still waiting for permits while court challenges play out.

While it waits, the pipeline has become a political weapon. Democrats and Republicans in Minnesota are in a tug of war over working-class, rural voters needed to win statewide. Trump won enough of those voters to come within just 1.52 percentage points — fewer than 45,000 votes — of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. He has said repeatedly he intends to win Minnesota in 2020, something not done by a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972.

While Trump hasn’t taken a specific stand on Line 3, he’s made it clear that he’s all for oil pipelines. Soon after taking office, he signed executive actions to advance the highly disputed Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, vowing, “From now on we are going to start making pipelines in the United States.” He backed that up in April with more orders to assert presidential power over cross-border pipelines and to make it harder for states to block them over environmental concerns.

Some Democratic candidates have been eager to draw a contrast. Sanders, a Vermont senator, was the first to come out against Line 3. In January, he tweeted a video of himself listening to indigenous activists about the proposal and wrote: “The dangerous Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota would send a million barrels of tar sands oil — the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world — through the headwaters of the Mississippi River, tribal treaty lands and sacred wild rice beds. It must be stopped.”

Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, weighed in just ahead of a recent visit to Minnesota by tweeting: “The Line 3 pipeline would threaten Minnesota’s public waters, lands, and agricultural areas important to several Tribal Nations. I’m with @MN_350 and Minnesota organizers fighting to #StopLine3 and protect our environment.”

She was referring to MN350, a climate change group that’s part of the opposition. Its spokesman, Brent Benson, called on other candidates who’ve spoken out against climate change to oppose Line 3, too.

“It’s folly to be promoting fossil fuel infrastructure in the middle of a climate crisis,” Benson said. “Presidential candidates have an opportunity and a duty to point that out.”

Other Democrats have not taken clear positions on the project. The campaigns of Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A spokesman for Sen. Kamala Harris of California didn’t address whether she has a position on Line 3, but pointed out that she opposed the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Klobuchar has also avoided taking a position. She has said she wants to ensure a thorough environmental and scientific review to determine if the Line 3 project should move forward. Minnesota regulators signed off on the main environmental review last year, although an appeals court has ordered additional study on the potential impacts to the Lake Superior watershed. But she recently returned $5,600 in donations from an Enbridge project manager after a liberal watchdog group, the Public Accountability Initiative, revealed them.

In contrast to the divided Democrats, Minnesota Republicans have made it clear that they support Line 3, and that they see it as a winning strategy for 2020, coupled with other issues that split Democrats along ideological and geographic lines, such as copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.

Just before her visit to Minnesota, Warren also tweeted her opposition to a proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely. Like her position against Line 3, it drew an angry response from labor unions.

“Why would you want to be against something that will create so many jobs, and living (wage) jobs, within an area that desperately needs it?” Mike Syversrud, president of the Iron Range Building and Construction Trades Council, told the online news site MinnPost.

When Republican Jason Lewis launched his U.S. Senate campaign at the Minnesota State Fair, the former congressman said he would focus on greater Minnesota — the mostly rural part outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul area — to make up for Democratic strength in the cities. He highlighted the 8th Congressional District, which covers northeastern Minnesota and has swung from blue to red. Lewis said Trump’s campaign is “dead serious about Minnesota,” and that he expects it to follow the same strategy.

“Greater Minnesota is turning red, deep red. … I don’t know how a Democrat’s going to win the 8th District promising to give pink slips to every trade union member on the Iron Range, promising to stop Enbridge, to stop copper mining, to stop logging, to stop people from having jobs on the Iron Range,” Lewis said.

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THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: Jason Lewis discusses U.S. Senate campaign with Mark Steyn

THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: Jason Lewis discusses U.S. Senate campaign with Mark Steyn

Great discussion on the Rush Limbaugh Show with Mark Steyn yesterday about my campaign for U.S. Senate. We talked about how election 2020 is a watershed moment for Minnesota and for America. Do we embrace individual liberty, lower taxes, and good paying energy jobs for places like the Iron Range? Or do we succumb to the radical anti-Capitalist ideology being pushed by politicians like Ilhan Omar and Senator Tina Smith?

Posted by Jason Lewis on Thursday, August 29, 2019

Election 2020 is a watershed moment for Minnesota and for America. Do we embrace individual liberty, lower taxes, and good paying energy jobs for places like the Iron Range? Or do we succumb to the radical anti-Capitalist ideology being pushed by politicians like Ilhan Omar and Senator Tina Smith?

Full Link to Audio

FOX NEWS: Minnesotans want lower taxes, energy independence, education reform, and they want more mining and timber jobs.

FOX NEWS: Minnesotans want lower taxes, energy independence, education reform, and they want more mining and timber jobs.

Minnesotans want lower taxes, energy independence, education reform, and they want more mining and timber jobs. By working with President Trump and his administration, we can make all of this happen – and more. Get on board right now by going to

Posted by Jason Lewis on Tuesday, August 27, 2019

By working with President Trump and his administration, we can make all of this happen – and more.