Politics

Controversial Former Talk Radio Host Wins GOP Primary in Minnesota Battleground

Jason Lewis has a history of controversial comments about women and slavery

Jason Lewis won the GOP nod for the open seat in Minnesota's 2nd District Tuesday night. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Jason Lewis, a former radio talk show host with a history of controversial comments about women and slavery, has won the GOP primary in Minnesota's open 2nd District.

Lewis won with 46 percent of the vote in the four-way primary, according to the Associated Press.

The general election in this Tilts Democrat district had been expected to be one of the most competitive in the country.

But ahead of the primary, Republicans working in the state feared that Lewis' comments could keep him from making the race against Democrat Angie Craig — who's had the primary field to herself since January — truly competitive.

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"Republicans are going to have a very tough time holding this seat with Jason Lewis," said GOP consultant Bob Kish, who worked for one of the other candidates in the primary. His candidate, state Sen. John Howe, had 19 percent of the vote when the race was called.

In one monologue on his radio show, Lewis criticized "young single women" for being single-issue voters when it comes to social issues.

"You've got a vast majority of young single women who couldn't explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about 'The View.' They are non-thinking," Lewis said. 

Lewis has maintained that his comments have been taken out of context by his opponents and the media. 

The district, long held in GOP hands, became competitive with Republican Rep. John Kline's announcement he would retire at the end of this term. Kline, and plenty of other Republicans in Washington, backed businesswoman Darlene Miller in the primary.

But Miller failed to gain much traction, while Lewis — because of his years on the radio — had much higher name recognition. Miller had 29 percent of the vote with 45 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night.

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Lewis has struggled to raise money, though. He ended the pre-primary reporting period with $107,000 in the bank compared to the $1.7 million Democrat Angie Craig had. 

The day before the primary, Lewis' campaign argued that money would flow their way once he won the primary and solidified GOP support. 

"Most major donors sit things out until the primary," said campaign spokesman Michael Osskopp. "We expect, beginning Wednesday, we won’t have any trouble raising money," he said. 

Craig released her first TV ad earlier this week, which highlights her experience as an executive at St. Jude Medical.

In Lewis' first ad, which ran on cable ahead of the primary, he called out "politically correct politicians" for attacking "people like you and me."

None of the GOP candidates in the primary were Republicans' first pick to run in the district. Kline had tried to recruit bigger-name candidates, like former Minnesota first lady Mary Pawlenty, for example, but they passed on the race.

Lewis' entrance may have kept some of them out, Kish said.

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State party leaders were critical of Lewis for the comments he's made in the past — until he won the backing of the state party at the GOP's nominating convention in May. Even party leaders who had been critical of him got behind him after he secured that endorsement. 

But not Kline. “This district is not a right district,” Kline told the Star-Tribune earlier this year. “It’s a swing district.” 

In its statement on the results Tuesday night, the National Republican Congressional Committee did not congratulate Lewis on his victory the way it congratulated the winners in the night's Wisconsin primaries.

“Republican voters of Minnesota’s 2nd District spoke tonight and selected Jason Lewis as their nominee," NRCC chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said in the statement.

"As the general election begins in earnest, Angie Craig’s liberal record will come sharply into focus and voters will quickly reject her embrace of the failed Obama-Clinton agenda,” Walden said.

Contact Pathé at simonepathe@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at @sfpathe.

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