One month left in Minnesota’s Fightin’ 8th

This image shows the 2018 candidates in MN-8 over the precinct results from the 2014 race, the last time a close contest included a third party candidate.

Just four weeks remain in the 2018 campaign. Unlike rehab, we’ll spend these next 28 days getting dirty.

We should expect fireworks in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District. Here Democrat Joe Radinovich hopes to keep the seat held by his former boss, outgoing U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, in a district that veered sharply toward Donald Trump in 2016. Republican Pete Stauber, a retired cop and hockey star, seeks to capitalize on this political turbulence. Meanwhile, independent Skip Sandman hopes to prove a point on several issues, especially environmental policy.

The outcome of this race in the north woods of Minnesota may well determine control of Congress. That’s not hyperbole. While Democrats hold an imposing lead in national polls, they’re counting on a lot of districts where Republicans are still competitive — like this one. If things get dicey, eyes will turn North.

Radinovich boasted a third quarter fundraising haul of $1.25 million yesterday. To show how much this district continues to change, that’s more in one quarter than Nolan raised in his entire successful 2012 challenge of former Rep. Chip Cravaack.

Stauber has proven no slouch when it comes to fundraising either, but that’s hardly the point. Outside political action groups will end up spending much more money influencing voters in this district than either candidate.

It’s a close race. A major independent poll last month showed a tiny one-point lead for Radinovich. Another poll released last week by Victoria Research for the Radinovich campaign showed a similar one-point lead for Radinovich. Both results were well within the margin of error.

For perspective, Nolan won his race in 2016 by less than one point. You get the picture. Nobody predicts anything less than a razor-thin margin on Nov. 6. That doesn’t guarantee it will be that close. These results might indicate a volatile race with a relatively equal chance of breaking one way or the other. Or maybe it goes to recount. Pure drama.

Stauber is betting everything on President Trump’s popularity in the district. He appeared riding with Trump in a limo in a photo before a rally in southern Minnesota last week. The picture was nearly identical to the one taken before a rally in northern Minnesota last June. As I’ve said from the beginning, if Trump is at 50 percent or better in the 8th, Stauber will likely win.

But I think it’s not quite that good for Republicans. Close, maybe, but more complicated. The Trump optics aren’t designed to win over swing voters. They’re designed to turn out the 2o16 Trump coalition in the same numbers as two years ago. In other words, Republicans see this as a base election. Democrats think they can get new voters from the middle, and assume that anti-Trump sentiment among liberals will reunite the Obama coalition of 2012. Who’s right? What if they’re both right?

As for the campaign, it’s become a brutal repetition of four divergent messages.

  • Joe Radinovich is a dangerous law breaker whose parking and speeding tickets, unpaid fines, and dismissed teenage drug paraphernalia charge make him unfit for office. A GOP-aligned SuperPAC has been running that ad everywhere nearly constantly for months.
  • Pete Stauber is an errand boy for big corporations, siding with pharmaceutical companies over regular folks. In fact, he’s “best friends” with all kinds of nefarious forces. The Democratic House Campaign funded this ad, complete with a yearbook motif and an endless loop of the wah-wah trombone line from Harry Nilsson’s “Best Friend.” Just enough of a taste to remain clear of copyright infringement, but enough to hearken the song for anyone who knows it. This one ran hot for a couple weeks, but I haven’t seen it lately.
  • Joe Radinovich drives all kinds of motorized things, exudes a lot of energy, survived a horrible family tragedy, mentors youth and fights for Medicare for All. That’s Joe’s ad.
  • Pete Stauber is a retired police captain and college hockey star. His family thinks highly of him. That’s Pete’s ad.

And when you get down to it, this is the bulk of what most folks know about these candidates. Radinovich seems to be taking more flak than Stauber, but his poll numbers are holding up. So whatever forces of political nature exist seem to be holding the race in stasis, more or less locked to party index.

This week on the podcast Dig Deep, which includes me, conservative commentator Chuck Marohn and producer Heidi Holtan, we talked about issues at the heart of the 8th District campaign. Our goal was to dive into each candidate’s position on three major issues to understand the substantial differences in the race.

We started with mining, and you may find the conversation interesting. Wednesday’s episode hits immigration. On Friday, we talk health care. The podcast-only edition next weekend became one of our more fascinating conversations. We explored the toxic nature of contemporary politics. Then, we dive into the weeds on the negative ads that have come to define the 8th District race.

You can listen to the episodes online at the Dig Deep site, live on Northern Community Radio during the Morning Show, or by subscribing to Dig Deep on iTunes.

The candidates debated the issues at last month’s Duluth Chamber of Commerce and Duluth News Tribune forum. Another forum was held last night in Brainerd. Candidates will meet again Oct. 26 on Minnesota Public Radio and for one final debate Oct. 30 in Hibbing.

I’ll continue to follow the race here at at my MN-8 special coverage page.


  1. Mari Bailey says

    So SICK of hearing that Joe is
    SAFE, anti mining?

  2. It is anti-mining only if you assume that non-ferrous mining cannot be done safely and still be financially viable at copper and nickel prices likely to prevail for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, based on public written and spoken presentations by mining insiders in the last two years, as well as efforts in the state legislature, they seem to have considerable concern that may be the case.

  3. Our recent elections prove that BOTH major political parties assume voters are idiots. They waste millions of dollars on attack ads that only a few weak minded individuals would believe. I know, there is ALWAYS a disclaimer absolving the candidate or the party of involvement. The recent spectacle of the grilling of a potential (and now sitting) Supreme Court Justice and his accuser by the Senate, shows how ugly politics has become. Basically, one side praised their witness, and vilified their opponent. And guess what? The other side did EXACTLY the same thing! I like both major candidates in the 8th District race, and honestly don’t know which one will get my vote.

  4. myron johnson says

    joe radinovich is a good guy who will work for the common man..hes for decent healthcare, support for the have nots, support for mining jobs and union benefits…Conversely, Stauber was the head of the tea party in duluth,he’s as rightwing as you can get. He’s trump with a hockey jersey. He and his pals want a right to work state…no unions, no protection, no pension.. Stauber is not going to talk about it, because he might lose votes..i…he says he is a union police member but that’s only because he could be on the board to interview and hire police with a more conservative bent…Stauber is all trump,, he has trumps backing and support. He is vague on issues because he knows if people know where he stands, he’d never get elected..he is VERY conservative ..and if he gets in with a trump majority, be very wary of whats in store.
    Joe is our best bet, he’s a good guy, hardworking, earnest and like your future depends on it.

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