Congressional candidates Angie Craig and Tyler Kistner tried to define themselves in their only debate – Twin Cities
In Minnesota‘s most contested congressional district, where moderates could swing the election, Angie Craig and Tyler Kistner are both too extreme — for each other.
On Thursday, the two candidates squared off in their only debate in Minnesota’s 2nd District, which encompasses much of the southern metro.
The contest is a rematch of 2020, when Craig, a Democrat first elected in 2018, defeated Kistner, the Republican challenger. The race is attracting national attention because it is widely seen as a draw. The seat has swung between parties over the years and Craig, while the incumbent, faces the same headwinds other Democrats face in next month’s election amid high inflation and approval in decline of President Joe Biden.
Thursday’s debate played out similarly to the campaign, with each candidate trying to frame their opponent as extreme – while both sought to come out in relatively moderate tones on issues ranging from abortion to crime.
THE ECONOMY A MAIN ISSUE
Kistner and Craig agree that the economy — and inflation in particular — is the biggest issue for voters.
In keeping with a national Republican strategy, Kistner has repeatedly sought to pin the blame for the economy on Craig by tying her to Biden via “the disastrous policies of Joe Biden, Angie Craig and the Democrats.”
At one point on Thursday, he even pivoted from a question of whether he accepted Biden’s 2020 win to framing it around the economy.
“There’s no denying it, look at gas prices,” Kistner said at the debate organized by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce and held at the Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount. “Look at the inflation. Surely you know he’s the president. I think Joe Biden won the 2020 election just after what the last two years have been.
Craig’s perspective on economic challenges was more nuanced. She noted, for example, that the national unemployment rate of 3.5% is the lowest in half a century.
She said inflation is a “serious global problem” and that “supply chains disrupted by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic have caused inflation,” she said.
She sought to parry Kistner’s criticism of the massive federal spending plans approved by Congress by asking the audience, “What was that spending…wouldn’t you have done?” before ticking off several bipartisan pandemic spending plans that aimed to bolster local businesses.
CRAIG ‘PUSHES BACK’ ON BIDEN
But Kistter’s attempts to tie Craig to Biden, as well as his more liberal Democratic colleagues, are clearly a concern for Craig. On several occasions, she pointed out, she “pushed off” her fellow House members, as well as Biden himself.
For example, on Thursday, she delivered her strongest criticism yet of Biden’s decision to forgive the college loan debt of tens of millions of Americans, without congressional approval.
“I have a lot of questions for the president,” Craig said. “Can a president spend $400 million without congressional authorization or approval, and I have to say I disagree in principle that it should.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Craig reiterated her strongest attempt to distance herself from Biden: She doesn’t want him on the ballot in the 2024 election, but would rather see “new leadership.”
KISTNER ON OPPOSITION TO ABORTION
Since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade — concluding that there is no federal constitutional right to abortion — Craig and outside groups who support her have relentlessly attacked Kistner’s anti-abortion stances, including being a member of the board of directors of a group that opposes abortions. It’s a strategy Democrats have employed in campaign after campaign across the country.
After the Dobbs decision, Kistner refused to clarify his position, and a section of his website discussing his “100% pro-life” views was no longer visible.
Craig accused Kistner of opposing abortion in all cases, without exception – but Kistner denied this, and on Thursday when questioned by reporters, Craig did not provide evidence to support this specific claim. .
Nonetheless, Kistner repeatedly attempted to downplay the potential importance of abortion rights in the campaign. Kistner’s current position on abortion is that he favors exceptions for rape or incest, but he refused to consider how he might act on the issue if elected to Congress.
On Thursday, for example, he declined to say whether he would support a 15-week federal abortion ban proposed by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.S.C., saying he hadn’t seen the specific language.
DUEL POLICE APPROVAL
Although the topic of public safety did not surface during Thursday’s hour-long debate, the issue figures prominently in this campaign, as it has in many states and countries: amid historically high violent crime rates in the wake of riots following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Republicans have sought to frame Democrats as anti-police, while Democrats have struggled to provide a clear vision that would include reducing crime while increasing police accountability.
Kistner accused Craig of supporting the “defund the police” movement – even though Craig has always opposed such efforts.
Last month, Craig pulled off a coup by winning the endorsement of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents some 10,400 public safety workers. The group had endorsed Kistner in 2020, but in its endorsement, the MPPOA cited a number of initiatives that Craig had supported that were also supported by law enforcement groups.
However, this week Kistner won the endorsement of the Minneapolis Federation of Police Officers, the union that represents Minneapolis cops.
Election day is November 8.