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Stauber campaign: Trump visit represents growing momentum

Pete Stauber campaign signs are lined up for supporters to take at a campaign rally Tuesday evening in Eveleth. Mark Sauer / Mesabi Daily News

EVELETH, Minn. — A week after President Trump endorsed Pete Stauber's 8th Congressional District campaign, the Republican favorite in the race sensed the Duluth visit represented growing momentum as the party continued to salivate at its chances to flip a swing seat in the House.

In 2014 and 2016, Republicans were less than 2 percent from increasing their majority by another member, but were foiled by current Congressman Rick Nolan. With Nolan out of the 2018 contest, Stauber has faced little opposition — only a late-entry primary opponent — in the march toward November's election.

With the president's support in hand, Stauber joins a long list of Republicans this election season riding the so-called Trump effect that recently caused incumbent GOP Congressman Mark Sanford to lose a primary to Trump-backed State Rep. Katie Arrington.

For Stauber, who was a shoo-in by Minnesota Republicans and seen nationally as the party's best chance to flip a seat, the endorsement of Trump — in a district he won by double-digit points — is another shot in the arm.

"For us to be able to bring in the president and talk about the issues facing our district was an amazing opportunity," Stauber said at a campaign event Tuesday in Eveleth. He added that the Republican National Committee is keeping close tabs on Minnesota's 8th District and is fully behind him. "They see this seat as the No. 1 pickup in the entire country."

Trump's first year and a half in office has also energized Democrats. The Duluth rally saw an estimated crowd of 8,400 file into Amsoil Arena, with a reported 2,000 more turned away. But across town thousands more protested Trump in an organized march by the Minnesota DFL.

Jason Metsa, a Democrat running in the party's 8th District primary, said Tuesday that Trump's visit is a nonfactor in the race right now. DFL candidates were speaking at a forum in Hibbing while Stauber greeted supporters in Eveleth.

"Not at this point," Metsa said. "There's a lot of people who really like him, and there's a lot of people that really don't like him."

Fellow DFL candidate Joe Radinovich said he couldn't deny Trump's popularity in the district, but like Metsa, was going to focus his campaign on the issues and not the president.

Radinovich ran Nolan's successful 8th District campaign in 2016 that outperformed the president in different areas of the region, including the Iron Range. He said the two ran on similar platforms — bad trade deals, government reform and rural economies, as examples — just different messages.

"One of the things Trump has highlighted is the type of politics that really matter to people in this district," Radinovich said. "Him and Rick sounded similar, but Rick was more optimistic. That's where we want to be."

He acknowledged a momentum for Stauber, who as the 8th District has turned redder, has proceeded unimpeded to this point as five Democrats vie for the party nomination in August. But the energy for both parties in Duluth on Wednesday point to a potentially large turnout in November.

Radinovich believes the race will swing less on Trump's visit and more on that projected voter increase. In other words, which side is more motivated to get out to the polls during a midterm, where turnout is generally reduced compared to presidential election years.

"If we know there's a whole lot more voters, who are those voters?" he said. "I really think Democrats are fired up and will come out in big numbers — a higher turnout than normal. I feel the energy out there."

In Stauber's camp, the energy is arguably at its highest to date and could provide a fundraising boom for the candidate as his Democrat opponent remains unknown and anti-Trump Republican Harry Welty challenges him in the primary.

Stauber said he was pleased with Trump's visit and said that president understands the issues in rural Minnesota. Declaring his support for iron and copper-nickel mining, a hallmark of Nolan's support of on the Range, Stauber said he doesn't have to look behind him in making those declarations. Instead, he's looking ahead to Nov. 6.

"I'm going to keep working," he said. "It's an open seat and we're going pedal to the metal."

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