In race to replace Phillips, abortion and immigration likely to dominate

21 March 2024

WASHINGTON — Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said “all politics is local,” but that’s not likely to be the case in the race to replace Rep. Dean Phillips in Congress for a suburban Twin Cities district.

Instead, the candidates in that race are likely to follow a national trend that replaces local concerns with the issues the national Democratic and Republican parties have determined resonate the most with voters.

For state Sen. Kelly Morrison, a DFLer who is also an OB-GYN, a main concern is reproductive rights, an issue that has helped Democrats win elections since the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Morrison, 55, who lives in Deephaven, has served in the state Legislature for five years, sponsoring many health-related bills and legislation aimed at protecting access to abortion.

State Sen. Kelly Morrison

She said she decided to trade medicine for politics after putting her three children to bed in tears on election night in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president.

“The divisiveness of that election was very important to me,” she said.

After Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a critic of Roe v. Wade, to the U.S. Supreme Court, Morrison reacted again, co-founding the  Reproductive Rights Caucus in the Legislature.

“We were ready,” she said of caucus members who expected Coney Barrett’s elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court would result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Morrison said she has a “comprehensive ob-gyn practice” and has performed abortions, although that procedure is usually carried out in clinics, which she said is necessary to protect doctors from violent protesters.

She has received the endorsement of dozens of state and local DFL officials, Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, and former Gov. Mark Dayton and has no primary challenger.

The only other Democrat who filed to run for the seat, Ron Harris, has dropped out of the race and endorsed Morrison.

She’s also lucky in that she has a huge fundraising lead over any Republican who might challenge her in the general election, closing in on $1 million.

Morrison reported raising about $400,000 in the last quarter of 2023 and said she’s raised about that much so far in this quarter.

The candidate who wants to succeed Phillips has known the retiring congressman for a long time, having been in his class at The Blake School, a private preparatory high school in Minneapolis.

Yet Morrison is considered to be more in the Democratic mainstream than Phillips, who touted his moderate credentials and willingness to work with the GOP.

‘Good roots in the district’

Meanwhile, there are several Republicans who are in the race for the rare open seat that was created when Phillips decided against running for re-election during his failed bid for the White House.

They include political newcomers Quentin Wittrock, an attorney in Minneapolis; businessman Blaize Harty of Carver; and former amateur wrestler Brad Kohler, whose campaign slogan is “From the Cage to Congress.”

Jamie Page, the founder of a video greeting card company, is also in the race. The latest entrant, former judge and state legislator Tad Jude of Maple Grove, is the only one among the five GOP candidates with any political experience.

Quentin Wittrock, Blaize Harty, Brad Kohler, Jamie Page and Tad Jude

Jude, 72, said “top of mind” for him is the issue of immigration and border security, especially when it comes to the unaccompanied minors that cross the southern border each year.

These minors are usually 17 or 18 years old, but many are younger. They usually come to the United State to escape gang violence in Central America and are sent north by their parents to live with relatives with the hope the children would be granted asylum. However, some of these youngsters are lured to the United States by adults who plan to profit from their labor.

“It seems a sad situation,” Jude said.

He said as a judge he has had custody cases involving immigrant minors and that they were often a problem, because he was wary of those who sought to take charge of the child.  

“They may claim to be relatives, but you don’t know that for sure,” Jude said.

Like many Republicans, Jude is critical of the asylum system that allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States until their cases are heard.

“Our asylum system is broken,” he said.

He said he is also concerned about the money American taxpayers spend on healthcare, housing and education for undocumented immigrants, although most social services and programs are off limits to those who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

And Jude is concerned about the vast amounts of fentanyl that is smuggled across the Rio Grande.

A focus on immigration is a national GOP strategy this election year, one that places blame on President Joe Biden and Democrats for what Republicans call a crisis at the southern border. Polls show that strategy is working, with an  increasing number of Americans saying immigration is the greatest problem facing the nation. 

Jude also said he supports law enforcement and public safety and considers himself a fiscal conservative.

He said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and would support him again “if given a choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

Jude said he knocked on 100,000 doors in the district when he represented parts of Hennepin and Anoka counties as a state legislator.

“I’ve got good roots in the district,” he said.

Democrats’ district to lose

Minnesota’s 3rd District, which encompasses the suburbs to the west, south and north of Minneapolis, was once considered a swing district because it has been represented in Congress by both Democrats and Republicans.

Jude said he was encouraged because the results of the presidential primary elections in Minnesota held earlier this month showed that about 15,000 more Republicans than Democratic voters participated, even though a “favorite son” — Phillips — was on the ballot.

Yet Phillips, a Democrat who ended decades of GOP control of the 3rd District when he was elected in 2018, easily won re-election in 2020 and 2022. And redistricting has made the district a little more Democratic.

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said the center has rated the district “safe Democratic” because it was won by Biden by 21 percentage points in 2020.

“It’s just too ‘blue’ to be a real Republican target in an era where presidential results predict a lot about the down-ballot results,” he said.

Tim Lindberg, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, agrees that the district is the Democrats’ to lose.

“At this point it’s probably a foregone conclusion that it’s going to go ‘blue,’” he said. “But you never know.”

Lindberg said the 3rd is the most rapidly changing congressional district in Minnesota and that those changing demographics make it unfriendly territory for Republicans who are now rallying around Trump.

The district is home to high-income, well-educated independent voters who reject Trump, especially the suburban women voters in the district.

According to a 2022 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in the 3rd District that year was $100,867, compared with the median household income in the state, which was $82,338. Only four percent of the district’s residents were below the poverty level.

As far as education, about 60% of the population under 25 in the district has a college degree, and 20% has a graduate or professional degree.

Ana Radelat

Ana Radelat is MinnPost’s Washington, D.C. correspondant. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @radelat.

The post In race to replace Phillips, abortion and immigration likely to dominate appeared first on MinnPost.

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