Good morning, and welcome to a chilly October Friday. The two candidates for Congress in Minnesota’s 1st District will be in the MPR News studios today shortly after 11 for a debate. I hope you can tune in on the air or online. And that’s where we’ll start the Digest.
1. High stakes in 1st District race. Increasingly sharp rhetoric from the candidates and visits by high-profile allies underscore the closeness and national significance of the U.S. House race in southern Minnesota’s First District. President Donald Trump was in Rochester, the district’s largest city, last week to support Republican Jim Hagedorn and other GOP candidates. The next day, Democrat Dan Feehan campaigned in Courtland and New Ulm with Tim Walz, who’s running for governor and has held the First District seat for 12 years. The race has grown more heated, with Hagedorn criticizing Feehan as a roadblock to Trump’s agenda, while the Democrat uses a new TV ad to object to depictions of his military career by a GOP group. (Star Tribune)
2. What happens if Knoblach wins? Paul Brandmire knows his state representative, Jim Knoblach, suspended his re-election campaign weeks ago. It didn’t sway Brandmire’s vote. He’s already cast an early ballot — and voted for Knoblach anyway. Brandmire knows it’s a long shot that Knoblach, who ended his campaign amid allegations by his daughter of inappropriate behavior toward her since childhood, will win the House District 14B race. And even if Knoblach gets the most votes, Brandmire doesn’t expect him to accept the House seat. Still, he wasn’t willing to vote for Knoblach’s DFL opponent, St. Cloud real estate agent Dan Wolgamott, even though he thinks Wolgamott would “probably do a good job.” Knoblach has denied the allegations. Stearns County Republican Party chair Sue Rice said there are no plans to organize a campaign for a write-in candidate. If Knoblach receives the most votes in the election, it will be up to him to decide whether to accept the seat, Rice said. It’s also possible that his House colleagues would refuse to seat him. (MPR News)
3. Union leaders stick with Ellison. Minnesota labor leaders declared Thursday that they are still standing by Keith Ellison in his bid for state attorney general. With Election Day less than a month away, officials from unions representing a broad range of workers said they remain loyal to Ellison. They stressed that he has been consistently in their corner for years. Ellison has spent much of the campaign denying ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan’s allegation of domestic abuse. Despite that allegation, Bill McCarthy, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said workers are sticking with their earlier endorsements of Ellison. “Our membership knows that Keith has stood with them over the years on every front, and we’re going to stand with him now,” McCarthy said. McCarthy and other labor leaders took turns criticizing Ellison’s Republican opponent, Doug Wardlow, for positions he took as a state legislator that they view as anti-union. (MPR News)
4. GOP dinner featured anti-Muslim speaker. The Chisago County GOP Dinner on Sept. 28 in Forest Lake featured, for the most part, a roster of notables typical for a party gathering during a busy election season: The two Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Karin Housley and state Rep. Jim Newberger; the candidate for the 8th Congressional District, Pete Stauber; and the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, Donna Bergstrom, along with several down-ballot candidates. The evening’s keynote speaker was Chris Gaubatz, a man who brands himself as a “national security consultant, speaker, and conservative political activist” who “trains law enforcement on the severity and dangers of the jihadi network in the U.S.” Attendees listened to Gaubatz make inflammatory comments about Muslim-American organizations and refugees from Muslim countries, according to a recording taken from the event. The proximity of activists like Gaubatz to top Republican figures, combined with heated campaign rhetoric about Muslim refugees and controversies like GOP officials publicly warning that Muslims may “infiltrate” the Minnesota caucuses, has confirmed, for some, that Islamophobia is increasingly part of the Republican Party mainstream. And, as Gaubatz’s comments underscore in stark relief, stoking fear about Muslims in the era of Donald Trump might be a more potent political strategy than ever. (MinnPost)
5. Dayton to undergo back surgery. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will undergo his third back surgery as governor on Friday help him deal with ongoing leg strength and balance issues. The surgery, similar to procedures he’s had in 2012 and 2015, will take place at Mayo Clinic in Rochester at 8 a.m. Dayton, 71, is often seen at public appearances with a cane to help keep his balance. The previous operations fused vertebrae in his lower back to help improve “strength and stability” in his legs, according to spokesman Matt Swenson. The governor will remain in the hospital for several days after the surgery. “Anyone, who has observed my walking in recent months, has seen that I have difficulties with my leg strength and, occasionally, with my balance. My doctor believes that this procedure will help with both conditions,” Dayton said in a statement. “I have the utmost confidence in him and the other tremendous people who will take care of me at Mayo. After the surgery, I will be in constant touch with my commissioners and staff and fully able to carry out my responsibilities as governor, as I have immediately after previous treatments there.” (MPR News)