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Former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis to challenge Sen. Tina Smith in 2020

Lewis said the road to the Senate seat will run through Greater Minnesota, where he said he could pick up votes.

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Former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, announced at the Minnesota State Fair that he would challenge Sen. Tina Smith for her seat in 2020. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, announced that he would challenge Minnesota's junior U.S. Sen. Tina Smith for her seat in 2020.

At the Minnesota State Fair, the former congressman from Minnesota's 2nd District said he would run for Senate and planned to help deliver President Donald Trump's agenda in Washington.

Lewis is a long-time conservative commentator and talk show host as well as a one-term member of Congress who failed his re-election bid last November to Rep. Angie Craig. But rather than challenge Craig, Lewis said he wanted to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate to make a bigger impact.

"The Senate is the last firewall for freedom," Lewis told a crowd of dozens of supporters at the fair. "I want to make sure that good conservative policy gets to the finish line."

Lewis touted his support for the president and committed to running a Trump-adjacent campaign in 2020. And the 63-year-old took a play from the president's playbook, saying Minnesotans would want a contrast from the Democratic Party platforms they see coming down from "The Squad," four liberal-leaning members of Congress.

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And he committed to running hard in Greater Minnesota, where farmers, laborers on the Iron Range and others put Trump within 1.5 percentage points of victory in 2016.

"I think that's where the battle is going to be won," Lewis said. "The president is more popular in Greater Minnesota than people realize and we're going to show that."

Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said Trump is looking to flip the state in 2020 and has been pumping resources into the state ahead of the election. That, along with a growing ticket of well-known candidates, should give the Democratic-Famer-Labor Party pause, she said.

"When you put all those pieces together it's kind of the perfect storm," Carnahan said. "I think that just changes the game and it should give Democrats a lot of concern and a lot of worry."

The Minnesota DFL and other liberal-leaning political groups quickly responded to Lewis' announcement on Thursday, aiming to tie the Republican's voting record to special interest groups in Washington, D.C.

“Jason Lewis spent his time in Washington repeatedly siding with powerful special interests over Minnesotans — voting to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions and to give tax breaks and giveaways to big corporations like prescription drug companies, big oil and Wall Street," DFL Chairman Ken Martin said. "Jason Lewis may want to continue fighting for special interests and big corporations, but Minnesota voters will reject this failed attempt at a second act.”

In running for a U.S. Senate seat after failing to win back his U.S. House seat, Lewis could become the first former Congressman in the recent era to win a Senate seat. Not since 1994 has a non-sitting U.S. representative launched a successful Senate bid, according to political expert Eric Ostermeier.

As he left the Minnesota GOP barn at the fair, Juan Balli, 73, of Lakeville, said he supported Trump and wanted to see a Minnesota senator sent to Washington that would better align with his policy proposals. And that's why he was ready to support Lewis.

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"I like his platform, I like his policies, I'm not a socialist, so what more can I say?" Balli said. "Him and I are pretty much politically compatible unlike my current congressperson, I have nothing in common with her."

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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