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In 8th District, Democrats will have to wait for Stauber challengers to emerge

As incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber piles up campaign dollars and widespread visibility, there have been no Democratic-Farmer-Labor challengers yet to announce their candidacies. Party leadership insists it'll be OK.

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

When U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber decided to leap from county commissioner to federal office holder in 2017, he announced his candidacy for the 8th Congressional District in the summer. It gave him ample time to meet voters — a runway that included two summer parade cycles in advance of the 2018 midterm election.

Any challengers who wanted to follow the lead of the now two-time incumbent’s successful, “get-to-know-me” model for a first-time congressperson would be announcing their candidacies right now.

But even with Democratic-Farmer-Labor activists eager to get behind a candidate, they’re not likely to see a field of challengers to the Hermantown Republican develop anytime soon.

“I’ve had great conversations with several candidates in the 8th District who would mount serious challenges to Pete Stauber,” Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin said. “But they’re a little hesitant to announce until they know exactly what those congressional district lines look like.”

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Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin

Released this week, 2020 U.S. Census data shows the 8th District as one of three rural districts in the state that will need to have parts of other territories added to its boundaries. The 8th District will need to add roughly 37,000 people to its borders. It’s the job of the state Legislature to redraw the lines, but it’s left itself only about two weeks after a return to session in January to meet the Feb. 15 deadline to enact a map.

In all likelihood, a legislative impasse between the state's GOP-held Senate and DFL-controlled House will result, and a panel of retired judges will redraw the state’s congressional lines, Martin said.

“Courts have drawn the maps in this state for the last 40 years,” Martin said. “We’re certainly hopeful the Legislature will get the job done, but we’re the only divided legislature in the country, and it’s probably not likely they’ll resolve those differences and come together.”

The expectation is that the DFL may not see candidate announcements until late winter or spring, leaving Stauber challengers with a sprint to the Aug. 9, 2022, primary and Nov. 8, 2022, general election.

Being without a candidate or field of candidates to rally around isn’t stopping DFL activists from making the case against Stauber.

On Saturday in Duluth, the Itasca Area Indivisible group will be in the vicinity of the Bayfront Blues Festival to rally in opposition to Stauber. The group says it advocates for progressive change, and that Stauber’s conduct in office has been “unforgivable.”

“What Stauber has done is undermine democracy, and the positions he has taken are dangerous to democracy,” said Brian Vroman, an Indivisible team member, veteran and Itasca Community College history and philosophy instructor.

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Vroman, 53, outlined some of Stauber’s decisions: voting against impeachment; failing to support the congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection; an unwillingness to support a For the People Act, which would combat voter suppression tactics; and the congressman's support for a legal challenge of swing states won by President Joe Biden during the last election.

“What Pete Stauber has done is perpetuate the Big Lie,” Vroman said, referencing the well-documented falsehood that Biden’s 2020 election was illegitimate. “And if voter suppression is allowed to stand and increase, that’s another threat to democracy. It’s not just a matter of spending money, and tax cuts — those are normal debates within the pale of normal politics. This is beyond that. He’s taken positions that are endangering democracy.”

File: Peter Stauber
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber speaks in January 2020 at the carpenters' hall in Hermantown. The DFL has not yet made any candidate announcements about 8th Congressional District challengers to Stauber. Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The News Tribune asked Stauber's campaign office to respond to that claim, which it did, releasing a statement:

"Pete continues to hear from constituents who are fed up with the government's tremendous overreach into all facets of their personal lives and he is fighting in Congress to stop the reckless, out-of-touch policies Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are pushing," Stauber's office said. "And it's no wonder Pete is receiving overwhelming support from Northeastern Minnesotans, because they know he is standing up for them and fighting for our way of life."

Even minus challengers to Stauber, Martin said the DFL is “litigating” its case against the congressman. The DFL recently opened offices in Hibbing and Ely in preparation for the midterm elections.

“We need to focus on taking on Pete Stauber at every turn and that’s what we’re doing,” Martin said.

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He noted that in the 3rd District, the GOP doesn’t yet have a challenger for state Rep. Dean Phillips, DFL-Deephaven, but that it doesn’t stop parties from pressing their cases.

“ I want to be very clear we are not just sitting around until next February for a candidate," Martin said. "We're taking Stauber on every time we can. We’re building the operation on the ground. We’re pushing back against his extremism, and we’re investing in human resources at offices in places like Ely and Hibbing. We are preparing for the campaign despite the fact that the candidates I've talked to aren’t completely ready to pull the trigger yet until the map comes out."

While the DFL waits for its field to materialize, Stauber was on his way to raising $1 million in an off-year. The News Tribune asked Martin if he was concerned about any DFLer having to confront a candidate with a warchest.

“The Minnesota DFL is the largest fundraising entity in the state, bar none,” Martin said. “There’s nobody who raises more money in politics in this state than me. We know our candidate will have to play catch-up. But DFLers are as motivated as ever to beat Pete Stauber. I’m not concerned about the content of Stauber’s bank account. It doesn’t scare me one bit.”

What about the electorate’s faith that the DFL will run an effective challenger? Both of Stauber’s previous opponents, Joe Radinovich and Quinn Nystrom, failed to prove capable of the legacy of past 8th District DFL office holders, such as Rick Nolan or Jim Oberstar. Their campaigns were mistake-ridden in Radinovich’s case, or undercooked in Nystrom’s.

Vroman noted the DFL will need to "bring its A-game" in 2022.

“Stauber is going to be hard to beat,” Vroman said. “He’s got certain boxes checked: hockey player, worked in law enforcement, a lot of the cultural stuff. We’re under no illusions. He’s going to be very difficult. That’s why we’re out there now.”

For Martin, he sounded like a person who has reason to be confident.

“I am absolutely confident that the DFL party will field a strong candidate in the 8th District this cycle,” he said, “and that we have an excellent shot at defeating Pete Stauber.”

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