Four Minnesota races the focus of national money, key political figures

Lara Trump took selfies, shook hands and encouraged supporters to vote for Republican congressional candidate Pete Stauber during a 40-minute visit to a Republican campaign office Thursday. 

Republicans view Stauber as one of their best chances in the country to win back a Democratically held U.S. House seat. President Donald Trump won the district by 16 points and has already campaigned here once before dispatching his daughter-in-law to the area.

“If you want to thank Donald Trump, the most important thing you can do and the way to do it is get out and vote in the midterm elections and vote for Republicans like Pete,” Lara Trump told several dozen supporters. “Because they are going to make the difference.”

The brief visit to North Branch, in the far southern part of Minnesota’s hotly contested eighth congressional district, was another sign of how national figures and money were targeting the state. Outside groups have spent a record $27.8 million on Minnesota’s congressional races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that tracks spending.

Out of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts, four are contested this year. Democrats are defending two seats; Republicans are defending two others.

“Money goes where money matters,” said Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota professor. “And right now Minnesota is ground zero in the battle for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington.”

The previous high-water mark for outside spending in Minnesota congressional races came in 2016, with $27 million spent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have targeted Minnesota. So too has pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and the Congressional Leadership Fund, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s group.

House Majority PAC and Independence USA, two Democratic-affiliated groups, are also spending heavily in the state.

Outside spending on Minnesota’s congressional races has far outpaced spending on the two U.S. Senate campaigns or the governor’s race. Democratic candidates hold the edge in each of those statewide races.

“We’re seeing Republicans pulling out of the governor’s race and the Senate races because they see them moving in the Democratic direction,” Jacobs said.