A favorite son of the Northland was elected to Congress on Tuesday as Pete Stauber handily won the high-profile 8th Congressional District race.
Buoyed by an impressive resume of life experience, Stauber closed out a 17-month campaign by becoming the second Republican in 70-plus years to be elected to represent Northeastern Minnesota.
“Wow, thank you very much,” Stauber told a slew of people before proceeding. “This isn’t just about me, this is about the calling. ... Tonight, you voted for freedom, hope and opportunity.”
Stauber, 52, said he humbly accepted the responsibility and would earn the trust and respect of people who didn’t vote for him.
Supporters stood on their feet at the Proctor Black Woods Banquet Center and chanted “Pete-Pete-Pete!” and “USA-USA!” as a victorious Stauber emerged to claim his victory shortly before midnight.
Stauber outpointed Democrat Joe Radinovich in a convincing way, 51 to 45 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
Stauber will be only the fifth person to represent the 8th District since 1947, joining late Democrats John Blatnik and Jim Oberstar, Republican Chip Cravaack and retiring Democrat Rick Nolan in succession.
The 8th District race drew national attention, most of it casting Stauber as a Republican uniquely favored to flip a district during a midterm election expected to be a referendum on President Donald Trump’s words, actions and policies.
“I’ve known Pete for 20 years,” said Steve Stracek, another former Duluth police officer. “Everything he’s said on the campaign trails, he believes. He truly is that person.”
Stauber followed Trump’s 2016 road map to victory. Trump won the 8th District by nearly 16 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, taking 14 of the district’s 18 counties - many by wide margins. Stauber was holding his own in the blue enclave of Duluth and St. Louis County, while dominating where Trump dominated.
Early in the night, Jodi Stauber met a packed crowd of roughly 200 supporters. She described her husband turning on Fox News every morning, making the couple’s four children between ages 12 and 18 a hot breakfast and leading prayer with the family in the hallway before everyone goes out the door.
“He’s lived a life of service,” Jodi Stauber said. “He is the happiest when he can talk to the most people in a day - which is why I don’t take him to the grocery store any more.”
Jodi was the first female commander of the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth - giving the family military credentials which bolstered her husband’s already impressive resume.
A retired Duluth police officer, small-business owner, county commissioner and championship college hockey player, Stauber called his life experience his greatest asset throughout the campaign. Buttressed against his Democratic challenger’s history of traffic violations, unpaid parking tickets and a dismissed marijuana paraphernalia charge from when he was 18, Stauber came across throughout the race as the adult in the room when compared to the seeming irresponsibility from Radinovich.
When Radinovich first entered his election party at Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, he told the crowd he was “flattered and humbled by the support” he had seen.
Returning around 11:30 p.m. to address his supporters while trailing by thousands of votes, Radinovich told his audience he was not conceding the election, but admitted “the odds are long.”
“Whatever the results of this race are polled for us, we know even if it’s a loss, that we are not defeated,” said Radinovich, 32, with tears in his eyes. “The things that we stand for are not defeated, the ideals we stand for are not defeated.”
Michael Gabiou, a former resident of Duluth for 12 years, said Radinovich represented the future, and Stauber did not.
“You’re getting two visions - ‘Can we move together and let’s prepare for the future,’ or ‘Oh no, things have changed because of those outsiders, let me blow my dog whistle,’” Gabiou said. “(Stauber) isn’t the future, we’re not moving forward. We’ll be stuck in the same thing.”
Stauber’s raucous supporters disagreed.
“Pete’s message about jobs and the economy has been right on from day one,” Justin Krych, deputy chairman of the 8th Congressional District Republican Party of Minnesota, said at the victory party.
The exhaustive race funneled $12.2 million through the district as of the latest federal money check in late October. Most of it, roughly $8 million, was spent by outside groups on negative attack ads. Radinovich, in particular, paid a heavy price in incessant attack ads aimed at him.
Stauber’s secret county emails with the National Republican Congressional Committee also drew attention. A court order released the emails a week before the election, but the emails showed little of consequence.
Stauber brushed off the controversy and forged ahead - into the House of Representatives.