Political newcomer Jason Lewis won a Republican primary battle in Minnesota's second congressional district Tuesday, coasting to a relatively easy victory in spite of opposition from a seven-term Republican incumbent who hailed from the establishment wing of the party.
The results came as a blow to retiring Republican Rep. John Kline, whose ties with Washington party elders run deep. Kline, first elected to the chamber in 2003, has served as chairman of the House Education Committee since 2011, the same post held for five years by former Ohio Rep. John Boehner before he propelled to majority leader in 2006 and House speaker in 2011.
Those credentials were not enough to enable Kline, who developed a reputation for consistently siding with Washington leadership, to name his successor. Business executive Darlene Miller, whom Kline had endorsed for the seat, held just 28 percent of the vote at 9:40 p.m. local time, with a little over 42 percent of precincts reporting. Former Minnesota state Sen. John Howe stood at 19 percent, while Lewis was set to emerge as the party's candidate with 46 percent.
Lewis developed a career as a talk radio host, spending 18 years in Minnesota and three as a nationally syndicated broadcaster. He will face off in the general election against Democrat Angie Craig, a medical executive who identifies as a lesbian, and who has four adopted children. Craig was not contested in her party's primary.
Tough loss for MNGOPe in #mn02. But they can get jobs on a losing gubernatorial campaign in the 2018 cycle so it's all good.— JohnGilmore (@Shabbosgoy) August 10, 2016
(AP) Conservative radio host Jason Lewis captures GOP nod in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District— Kyle Potter (@kpottermn) August 10, 2016
Though Craig positions comfortably to the left of the district's generally moderate voters, national Democrats have prioritized the race. Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip and second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, visited the district to campaign with Craig in early August, calling her "one of our best" and a "can-do person."
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While Craig seems to fit well within the ideological contours of her party's leadership, it's less clear where Lewis would fall among his colleagues should he win the November election. He has said he would seek to join the House Freedom Caucus, the 40-member caucus of conservative members in the House Republican Conference who often cause consternation for party leadership. But he was also able to procure the Republican endorsement earlier this year, which meant that even though he did not hold favor with Kline, he did have the support of most other Republicans, locally and nationally.
The district seems likely to favor Lewis going forward, with voters leaning Republican but traditionally splitting their ballots, particularly in presidential election cycles. While Kline carried the vote by 56 percent to 39 percent to his Democratic opponent in 2012, President Obama won the district by one-tenth of a percent, 49.1 to 49.0, the same year.