With the 2018 midterms one week away, Democrats at the annual Wellstone-Oberstar Bean Feed in Virginia sent a message that many feel was lost during the party’s 2016 presidential campaign: That laborers and working class voters matter.
Republicans and then-candidate Donald Trump capitalized two years ago with a blue collar jobs message that resonated as white working class voters in Minnesota were the president’s largest demographic shift nationally compared to 2012.
As Democrats seek to flip the U.S. House and Senate on Nov. 6, with a critical swing seat in Minnesota’s 8th District, they’re looking to take back the working class through the Iron Range unions.
“They left the Midwest behind. They left rural Minnesota behind. They left the 8th District behind,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of the 2016 national Democratic campaigns Monday night. “In 2016, we did not acknowledge the dignity of work. There are many paths to success and it’s not just four-year degrees.”
Joe Radinovich, the DFL candidate for the 8th District, finds himself in a tight race with Republican Pete Stauber in one of the most watched and most expensive elections in the nation. The two are vying to replace three-term DFL Congressman Rick Nolan.
Early polls showed Radinovich with a narrow one-point advantage, but Stauber pulled ahead in the most recent New York Times/Siena poll. The Times said the 15-point lead by Stauber was likely an outlier, but not to totally dismiss the Republican lead. Other polling sites have listed the race as a toss up between the two, with FiveThirtyEight saying it leans toward Stauber.
At the heart of the Iron Range debate between the two are core issues of mining, healthcare and the working class’ role in the economy, where they sharply differ on Trump’s tax plan.
Stauber has said the trickle down from small business owners and corporations to employees has benefited the middle class. Radinovich says the top 1 percent has benefitted the most.
“Working people are losing ground in this country,” the Democrat said Monday night.
The topic of mining has morphed over the years in the 8th District as Nolan remained steeled in his support of the industry. In 2018, in just about every statewide race, it is now the issue of how much does a candidate support mining over the other?
As the Trump administration has cut red tape blocking mining lands and leases, Democrats have tried to separate themselves by supporting mining and the miners. They cite right-to-work legislation pushed through in states like Wisconsin and the Supreme Court decision that damaged the efforts of public unions.
Particularly in the governor’s race, right-to-work legislation has become a focal point with unions. Republican candidate Jeff Johnson said in a July interview that he would support right-to-work laws limiting private unions, while strongly favoring copper-nickel mining on the Range.
“We don’t have to make false choices. There’s no doubt the Republicans support mining,” said DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz. “They sure the hell don’t support miners, and that’s the difference between the candidates on the ballots.”
The candidates on hand Monday — Klobuchar, Walz and U.S. Tina Smith — have leads in their respective polls in statewide races. Meanwhile the attorney general battle between Congressman Keith Ellison and Doug Wardlow, like the 8th District race, is leaning toward the Republican.
How successful the Democrat message will be next Tuesday may depend on several factors, including voter turnout and which party is more energized. And as Republicans showed in 2016, which Democrats are trying to take back, the will of the middle class in Minnesota.
“They created the world they wanted to see — we get to create the world we want to see,” Walz said, contrasting the outcome 2016 to the possible outcome this year. “Minnesotans don’t fear the future. We create the future.”