Minnesota sent 5 newbies to Washington last year. What have they done? Who will return?

By: - January 16, 2020 6:05 am
President Donald Trump and Pete Stauber, then a Republican candiate for the US House

Rep. Pete Stauber, Republican from the 8th Congressional District, seen here with President Donald Trump in 2018. Rep. Tom Emmer is pictured behind Stauber. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

WASHINGTON — There’s a new crop of Minnesotans on Capitol Hill, and they’re hoping to stick around for a while. 

Five of the state’s eight representatives in the U.S. House are freshmen, and at least two of them are likely to face tough reelection races in November. They’ve all spent their first year in office attempting to advance their pet issues, build up their campaign coffers and get face time with voters back in their districts. 

The closest races this fall could be for the seats now held by Reps. Jim Hagedorn (R) and Angie Craig (D). 

“I think the ones to watch are the First and the Second [Districts],” said Steven Schier, a retired Carleton College politics professor. 

The other three freshmen — Reps. Dean Phillips (D), Ilhan Omar (D) and Pete Stauber (R) — are expected to have an easier time holding onto their seats in 2020, although it’s still early in the campaign season and the presidential race could have a major impact down-ballot. 

Here’s a look at what Minnesota’s freshmen have been up to so far: 

Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-1st District) 

2018 election: Hagedorn narrowly defeated Democrat Daniel Feehan to win the seat that had been held since 2007 by now-Gov. Tim Walz (D). Feehan announced in October that he’d run again for the seat in 2020, and political observers predict another tight race.  

House committees: Agriculture and Small Business

Legislation: Hagedorn is the lead sponsor of three bills introduced in the House. One would establish an interagency task force to examine animal disease transmission; another would allow certain tax-advantaged education savings plans to be used for some non-degree technical training. One of his bills — a bipartisan measure aimed at helping small businesses compete for federal contracts — passed the House. 

Trump voting record: Hagedorn has voted in line with Trump 93.5% of the time since taking office, according to an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight. 

Reflections: What I’m most proud of from my first year in office is that we were able to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA),” Hagedorn said this week in a statement. “I was the first member of the Minnesota delegation to publicly support USMCA and championed its passage.”

Rep. Jim Hagedorn represents Minnesota’s First District after a narrow victory in 2018. Official photo.

2020 priorities: Hagedorn said he plans to work on “supporting southern Minnesota’s three main economic sectors — agriculture, small business/manufacturing and medical care.” He’ll work to advance his other two bills, he added, and he wants to block the passage of Medicare for All, a top priority for some House Democrats. 

“This misguided legislation would dramatically lower reimbursements to hospitals and doctors, especially undercutting fine medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic and rural hospitals,” he said. “The fallout from such a policy would devastate the economy of Rochester, [Minn.,] and surrounding areas, as well as bankrupt our rural hospitals.”

Reelection prospects: Hagedorn has been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and political experts see him as the more vulnerable of the two Minnesota GOP freshmen in 2020. 

“I think Hagedorn has got trouble,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Walz is likely to campaign heavily against Hagedorn in his former district, Jacobs said, and Hagedorn will face criticism that Trump’s trade policies have hurt farmers. 

Rep. Angie Craig (D-2nd District)

2018 election: Craig unseated Jason Lewis, a first-term Republican, in a district that narrowly voted for Trump in 2016. 

House committees: Agriculture; Transportation and Infrastructure; Small Business

Legislation: Craig has rolled out 10 bills in the House. One — a bipartisan effort to fund water pollution control efforts — passed the chamber in April. She introduced legislation in February that’s aimed at lowering costs of health insurance premiums and passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Trump voting record: 4.8%, according to FiveThirtyEight

Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) speaking at DC news conference
Rep. Angie Craig shown at a news conference in January 2019 in Washington, DC. Also pictured is Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN). Craig is being targeted by the National Republican Campaign Committee. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Reflections: “I’m most proud of my work on health care,” Craig said in a statement, noting that she’s cosponsored another 61 bills that address the accessibility of health care and the rising cost of prescription drugs. 

As for what’s surprised her most about Capitol Hill, she pointed to “how hard you have to try to be bipartisan.”

Priorities: Craig said she’ll “remain committed to working every day to lower the cost of health care and prescription drug prices. As long as that’s the number one thing my constituents talk to me about, it will be my number one focus.” 

She also plans to work on ensuring that the federal government is a good partner for our schools, farmers, small businesses and communities and ensuring “that the money we are sending to Washington comes back to the Second District,” she said. 

2020 reelection: Craig is a target of the National Republican Campaign Committee. Her challengers include Rick Olson, a former state legislator from Michigan. Olson said in September that the American dream “is now being put at risk in favor of rising calls for Socialism,” AP reported. This week, U.S. Air Force veteran Erika Cashin also entered the race against Craig, the Star Tribune reported. Former state Rep. Regina Barr of Inver Grove Heights also got in this week. 

“Among the DFL [freshmen], I think Craig is probably the most vulnerable,” said Jacobs of the University of Minnesota. Craig has been a formidable fundraiser; she raised about $1.5 million between January and October of last year and ended September with more than $1 million in the bank, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. 

Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics rates the race as “leaning Democratic” according to J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of the political website. 

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-3rd District)

2018 election: Phillips unseated five-term GOP incumbent Erik Paulsen in a district that Hillary Clinton won by nine points in 2016. 

House committees: Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Ethics

Legislation: Phillips is the lead sponsor of nine House bills, two of which have passed the chamber. One of those bills authorizes the State Department to provide funds for a pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. The other would require banking regulators to provide annual testimony to Congress. 

Trump voting record: 4.8%, according to FiveThirtyEight

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) speaking outside of US Capitol
Rep. Dean Phillips with fellow House Democrats outside the U.S. Capitol in July 2019. Phillips, who has tried to position himself as a centrist, is expected to win re-election to the 3rd District. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

2020 reelection: Phillips is another target of the NRCC in the 2020 cycle, but several political observers said they expect him to keep his seat. 

“I don’t expect Phillips will have much of a problem,” said Coleman, who noted that Phillips has tried to position himself as a centrist and could have leadership potential, since his seat is relatively safe. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-5th District) 

2018 election: Omar defeated her GOP opponent, Jennifer Zielinski, by a whopping 56 points after former Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison left the seat. 

House committees: Budget; Education and Labor; Foreign Affairs

Legislation: Omar is the lead sponsor of 11 House bills. One would forgive outstanding federal and private student loans; another aims to make breakfasts and lunches free for all children. 

Trump voting record: 4.9%, according to FiveThirtyEight

Reflections: “When I was sworn into Congress … I made my first and primary goal to invest in the people and the communities of the 5th District and to fight against the forces of economic inequality that are holding working families back in Minnesota and across the country,” Omar said in a statement. 

“Too many Minnesotans are struggling to make ends meet because of policies that value corporate profits over workers’ rights, and by a rigged system that devalues basic needs like education and health care. That’s why I introduced bills to cancel student debt, make school meals universal, served as Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Vice Chair of the Medicare for All Caucus.”

Priorities: In 2020, she said, she’ll “fight for policies like environmental justice, Medicare for All and a foreign policy based on peace and human rights,” she said. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) July 23 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar shown in July 2019 in Washington, DC. Although she is frequently criticized by President Donald Trump, Omar is expected to easily retain her 5th District seat. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

2020 reelection: Omar — a member of the “squad” of progressive House freshmen — has been at the center of controversies as she was accused of anti-Semitism and is continually targeted by Trump and his allies. But experts predict she’ll have little problem holding onto her seat in 2020. 

“Think of it as San Francisco,” Jacobs said of her left-leaning district. “She’s very liberal and it’s a very liberal district so she’s giving that district what they want.” 

Rep. Pete Stauber (R-8th District)

2018 election: Stauber beat Democrat Joe Radinovich by about 5 points for his seat, which was last held by Democrat Rick Nolan. 

House committees: Small Business; Transportation and Infrastructure

Legislation: Stauber has introduced 10 bills, two of which have passed the House. One seeks to improve aviation safety through the establishment of a task force; the other aims to ensure that small firms can vie for benefits from the Small Business Administration. 

Trump voting record: 92.1%, according to FiveThirtyEight

2020 reelection: Stauber hasn’t been announced as a DCCC target, but he was announced as a target by EMILY’s List

In contrast to Hagedorn, Stauber has seemed more willing to make overtures to the center, said Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, whereas Hagedorn has “hugged Trump a bit more.” 

Jacobs said there’s a sense among Democrats that the 8th District will be harder to win because it’s been trending in a GOP direction. Stauber, he added, is “a Republican who’s been thoughtful about how to avoid the partisan fire.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.