Former state Rep. Joe Randinovich has won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination in Minnesota’s 8th District, which, if the past two cycles are any indication, could be among the most expensive House races this fall.
With 62 percent of precincts reporting, Radinovich led the five-person field with 47 percent of the vote, when The Associated Press called the race.
DFL incumbent Rick Nolan is not running for re-election. After announcing his retirement, he joined a last-minute gubernatorial ticket as the lieutenant governor candidate, but came up short Tuesday night.
Radinovich was Nolan’s 2016 campaign manager. He will face Pete Stauber, who ran with the GOP’s endorsement and easily won his primary Tuesday. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.
A former Duluth police officer and hockey player, Stauber is regarded as a top recruit for Republicans this cycle. President Donald Trump already held a rally for him in June, and Vice President Mike Pence was in the district fundraising for him last week.
This is one district in this year’s midterm landscape where Trump’s strong support could actually be beneficial to the GOP nominee. The president carried the northeast Minnesota district, which includes the mining region known as the Iron Range, by 16 points in 2016, while Nolan won re-election by just half a point. Trump on Monday reiterated his support for Stauber on Twitter.
On a map where Republicans are mostly playing defense, national operatives view this race as a top pickup opportunity. Having avoided a divisive primary, Stauber starts with a cash advantage. He ended the pre-primary reporting period on July 25 with $479,000 in the bank to Radinovich’s $60,000.
But outside groups on both sides of the aisle have already reserved millions of dollars of TV airtime here for the fall, signifying that neither party is going to give up on this race without a fight. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win the House majority, so losing this seat would increase the number of seats they need to pick up.
The fight over copper-nickel mining, which has divided the DFL, is likely to be a major issue in this race. Stauber is a strong proponent. Radinovich is open to copper-nickel mining, saying he believes it can be done safely. But Republicans are likely going to try to tie Radinovich to elements of the party that oppose mining. The Democrat most recently served as chief of staff to the Minneapolis mayor, opening him up to criticism of being too allied with metropolitan interests in the Twin Cities.
Stauber’s campaign attacked Radinovich Tuesday night as “metro Joe.”
Although not on the ballot in the 8th District, Nolan could also be a factor in this race with Republicans looking to tie Radinovich to his former boss. The congressman’s reputation has soured in recent weeks for mishandling allegations of sexual harassment against a former top aide.
Radinovich is from Crosby, Nolan’s hometown, and he’s using most of the same consultants who traditionally worked on his former boss’ congressional campaigns. Radinovich’s first TV ad touted him as a top aide to Nolan and a super PAC that dropped $175,000 on pro-Radinovich mailers linked him to the congressman.
But media reports about Radinovich’s role in handling the sexual harassment allegations against the former Nolan staffer have made him look better than the congressman. When he found out about the accusations against the staffer — who’d been let go from Nolan’s official staff and brought on to the campaign — he fired him. Women involved in the sexual harassment allegations in Nolan’s office reached out to the Duluth News Tribune to defend Randinovich.
Radinovich’s latest ad doesn’t mention the congressman and is instead focused on “Medicare for All” and a campaign finance overhaul. He’d been endorsed by End Citizens United.
National Republicans went after his health care position Tuesday night.
“Joe Radinovich is a loud and proud supporter of a government controlled single-payer health care system. He is simply too liberal for the Iron Range,” NRCC spokesman Maddie Anderson said in a statement.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Tuesday attacked Stauber as “puppet of his party bosses,” while casting Radinovich as an “independent voice” who “strikes the same populist tone that has carried Nolan to victory.”
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