Summer has arrived and another winter will blow in before election season 2020 is actually here.
But on both sides, buildup is afoot.
Rep. Pete Stauber continues to proliferate his aim to “unleash the economic engine” at manufacturing centers across Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. And it’s resonating with people such as Ryan Horne, owner of Greentech Manufacturing in International Falls.
“It’s nice he stops in and does a welfare check on the community and businesses up here,” Horne said of a Stauber visit in May. “It shows that, definitely this far north, we’re not forgotten.”
As Stauber documents his frequent visits to manufacturing sectors on social media, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is engaging with would-be candidates in an effort to meet Stauber at the polls with someone who can compete in 2020.
Saying it doesn’t coronate but does recruit candidates, the DFL has talked with eight or more people who would at least entertain the idea of candidacy. But with no commitments yet, state DFL Chairman Ken Martin told Forum News Service this month he hoped to begin seeing some announcements sometime in the third campaign fundraising cycle (July-September).
“There’s some really good folks, interesting candidates,” Martin said. “You have folks we’ve been talking to who you’d call traditional prospects — people who hold elected office — and you have people coming from different sectors in industry, and other places who don’t have political pedigree but have a great story that might make it tough for Pete Stauber.”
Martin described Stauber as “affable,” “not offensive” and someone who will be difficult to beat.
“But is he someone who is going to stand up and push back on Republican policy?” Martin said. “He’s on the wrong side of a lot of people in some areas where we can drive that contrast.”
Stauber toured a plastic factory in Rush City last month. Owner Dennis Fransen talked to the congressman about a labor shortage and twin scholarships at the local community college Frandsen offers to area seniors.
“I pointed out to Congressman Stauber that our state and federal governments should pick up the ball and make something happen in that regard,” Frandsen said. “I was happy to have the opportunity.”
Since the beginning of his national political career, Stauber has been ringing a bell for "unleashing the economic engine" of the 8th District. His staffers say there’s a reason for it.
“Unleashing the economic engine has become Congressman Stauber’s mantra because ensuring that every resident of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District attains economic prosperity is what he hopes to accomplish while in office,” Kelsey Mix of his Washington, D.C., office said.
Stauber’s engagement with the district has included multiple roundtable discussions with industry leaders and a recent congressional committee field hearing in Scandia, Minn. on getting serious about rural broadband. Stauber compared it historically to every resident having mail delivery.
He has held two “telephone town halls” and is open to holding an in-person town hall, though none are scheduled, Mix said. A poll of the district showed people preferred telephone town halls, the Stauber office said.
“Congressman Stauber meets with constituents on a daily basis,” Mix said.
During his visit to International Falls, Stauber toured the Greentech facility, where a team of 40 workers makes wood-burning furnaces and other metal products.
The owner, Horne, said they kept Stauber longer than expected, and that it was worth it to tell a story of how his business is doing well despite a community that is not having the same experience in the economic recovery as others.
“I would say struggling is the best description for our local business economy,” Horne said. “We’ve lost some very good companies that have either moved or shut down. We recently lost a fast-food chain. There’s a lot of negative things happening.”
Fortunate to be shipping products, even Horne can find logistics difficult, because trucking firms are reluctant to trek to remote locations such as his.
Speaking from a regulatory standpoint, Horne’s business is also required to test its products to meet federal emissions standards.
“We’re trying to keep our products to meet federal EPA standards,” he said. “It's seemingly getting more expensive with every year.”
Where residents and businesses are still hurting is where Martin sees opportunity for the DFL.
“The reality is there are a lot of folks in the 8th District still struggling,” Martin said. “There’s higher unemployment in the 8th than nationally (3.9 percent). There’s a lot of economic anxiety I’m not sure Pete has tapped into.”
One thing Martin acknowledged could hurt the DFL in coming up with someone to counter Stauber is the 2020 U.S. Census — one which Martin is nearly resigned will result in the state of Minnesota losing a Congressional District.
If the state drops to seven district representatives, a promising would-be candidate might want to wait to see what the 2022 landscape looks like post reapportionment (the reallocation of seats nationally) and redistricting (the redrawing of districts).
“The uncertainty is complicating candidate recruitment,” Martin said. “You have people who aren’t going to commit for the 2020 cycle.”
Making matters even more difficult, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not list Minnesota's 8th District as one of its top targets in January, meaning national party attention and resources will be harder to come by.
In the meantime, the district is Stauber’s. And he’s not settling down enough to make anyone forget it.
“Congressman Stauber is ever-present and engaged in the district,” Mix said. “These visits are incredibly important because they allow the Congressman to meet with people he represents and learn about the issues that matter most to them.”