8th congressional district race gains national attention ahead of Election Day

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It was a nationally-targeted race two years ago; now, the 8th congressional district seat is again receiving attention from both presidential candidates.

While former Vice President Joe Biden visited Duluth in September, it has been particularly targeted by the Trump campaign. President Trump, Vice President Pence and Donald Trump Jr. have all made campaign stops there in recent months.

The 8th congressional district stretches from Chisago County in the south to Saint Louis County in the north, from Hubbard and Wadena Counties in the west to Carlton County in the east. It includes Koochiching, Lake and Cook Counties, encompassing the Iron Range, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Brainerd Lakes Area.

It is represented by Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, who won his first term in 2018.

“He won in 2018 despite there was a Democratic wave in Minnesota and the country, which I think indicates how durable the Republican orientation of the 8th district is becoming,” political analyst Steven Schier said. “Now, he is benefitting from the strong Trump campaign in the district.”

Trump endorsed Stauber in 2018 and has continued to support the Duluth-native. He invited Stauber up on stage during his Bemidji rally in September, calling him a “great hockey player.”

Stauber played professional hockey before becoming a Duluth police officer. He served in that role for about two decades before retiring. Stauber was also a St. Louis County Commissioner and City Councilor in Hermantown before heading to Washington.

He is challenged by Democrat Quinn Nystrom, a native of Crow Wing County. She served on the Baxter City Council and ran unsuccessfully for the Minnesota House District 10A seat in 2016. Nystrom has been an advocate for changes at the state and federal level that would reduce prescription drug prices.

“One would think this might be a competitive race because the current incumbent Pete Stauber won by just a little over five percent and took that seat away from the Democrats,” Schier said. “But so far there has been almost no outside money spent in the district.”

Stauber is pushing a platform of job creation, highlighting his support from unions including Teamsters Joint Council 32, the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, and the Minnesota Police and Peace officers Association.

He calls for criminal justice reform but funding for local law enforcement agencies. On healthcare, he says he opposes Medicare for all but supports ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Nystrom agrees with protecting coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. She has Type 1 diabetes and the cornerstone of her campaign has been a pledge to reduce prescription drug prices, including insulin.

She also wants to see public school funding expanded and more resources for those struggling with opioid addiction.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the district, however, is mining.

“Iron mining is the heartbeat of our region,” said Stauber, during a debate hosted Oct. 20 by WDIO-TV. “So many economic developments happen because of mining. Mining is our past, present and future.”

Nystrom said, “I am not against copper-nickel mining but we have to make sure we can do it in an environmentally safe way that doesn’t endanger our clean water.”

Schier told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that debate has caused a shift in the traditionally blue district.

"The big agenda up there is to bring mining back, to encourage mining and that is opposed by a lot of the environmental interests in the Democratic party and so as a result a lot of people on the Iron Range for example, which is the mining center, have moved from Democrat to Republican,” he said. “This seems to be a pretty long term change."

Former president Barack Obama carried the 8th district in 2012 but it went to President Trump in 2016.

"The Trump campaign’s on-the-ground efforts in the 8th district are very important in understanding why Pete Stauber has advantages in that district," said Schier. “There have been staff people for the Trump campaign in the district for months, the get out the vote effort will be formidable in the district."

Nystrom is endorsed by the Biden campaign and Minnesota DFL. She is the first woman to receive a major party endorsement in district history.

She advertises a campaign that "rejects all corporate PAC Money."

According to Schier, there is not a significant amount of money being spent by the Democratic Party to win the district in 2020.

"You would really need a really huge Democratic wave nationally and in the state for Quinn Nystrom to pull off an upset because she is at this point underfunded in a district that leans Republican," Schier said.