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Candidates in a Minnesota swing district will have an additional three months to campaign before a February special election — an unusual situation that likely benefits the Republican challenger to freshman Democratic Rep. Angie Craig.
Instead of being held Nov. 3 like the rest of the House, the 2nd District election will take place on Feb. 9, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, as state law requires when a major-party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day. Craig will have to relinquish her seat at the close of the 116th Congress and fight to win it back a month later.
The delay gives the Legal Marijuana Now Party time to nominate a new candidate after its candidate, Adam Weeks, died on Sept 21. But it also provides GOP nominee Tyler Kistner more time to increase his name recognition and fundraise, and perhaps benefit from the national spotlight, said Gregg Peppin, a Republican consultant in the state.
“If it does become nationalized, then there’s more time to raise money from a national audience,” he said.
The district is one of more than two dozen that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and then two years later elected a Democrat to the House. The Cook Political Report gave Craig the edge in its most recent ratings, before this week’s development.
Another plus for Kistner: Republicans tend to have better turnout in special elections, which could make a difference in a district where the margin of victory has been less than 6 percentage points in the past two elections.
“This is not good news for the Democrats because they were hoping this would be a wave election, and the 2nd would be swept up with the others,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
“Now they’ve got to retool, re-energize, re-campaign, re-mobilize for this very awkward February special election,” he added.
Another unknown factor is how well the Legal Marijuana Now and other third-parties do at the ballot box. In 2016, the Independence Party received 28,000 votes, which was larger than the number of votes Craig lost by in that year’s open-seat race. She ran again in 2018, defeating freshman Republican Jason Lewis in a rematch.
Craig likely maintains an overall edge in the election, said Eric Ostermeier, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota and the author of the Smart Politics blog. Craig has both name recognition as an incumbent and a sizable war chest of $2.5 million as of June 30. The third-quarter fundraising period ends Sept. 30.
Depending on how Republican candidates do in the November elections, both Republicans in the state and nationally could be motivated to make a strong play for the 2nd, Ostermeier said.
“She had a fairly easy pathway back to the chamber for the next Congress if this hadn’t happened,” he said. “This is a new variable. No one knows for sure how it’s going to impact things.”
Mike Erlandson, a former chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said the outcome of the presidential election in November is the “biggest unknown factor.”
The special election will be a few weeks after the inauguration, and both sides will use the race to either reaffirm or challenge the presidential election results, he said. The House race had been expected to be close, and Erlandson said the delay could mean parties funnel millions more into an already-expensive race.
“The race reflects a lot of symbolism in the country, because it’s a district that divides relatively equally between Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” Erlandson said. “It’ll be hotly contested.”
Jacobs said the party that loses the presidential election will have the best shot at mobilizing its base. He said the backlash from Republicans would be particularly large given Trump’s comments that the election might be rigged.
“The energy on the losing side is just going to be remarkable, because the stakes seem so high,” Jacobs said. “The losing side is going to see a remarkable sense of betrayal.”