Republican launches Minnesota Senate bid, slams 'resistance'

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — Republican Jason Lewis jumped into Minnesota's Senate race Thursday, using a YouTube video and State Fair appearance to make it clear that he'll try to tie Democratic incumbent Tina Smith to the state's freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar and the so-called resistance to President Donald Trump.

Lewis, a former conservative talk radio host who lost his House re-election bid in 2018, declared that he's all in for Trump as he went hard at the nation's current political and cultural divisions. He portrayed Omar and other members of the "squad"of four liberal House newcomers — all women of colour whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party — as a threat to Americans' right to life, liberty and property.

"The state of Minnesota is not interested in following the 'squad' off the rails," Lewis said. "They're interested in keeping our prosperity going, keeping our Constitution intact and making certain that all of you have a future."

Lewis repeatedly attacked the "squad" but mentioned them by name only once in his speech. However, he pointedly singled out Omar in a YouTube video posted shortly before his speech.

"Indeed, the so-called resistance, led by our own Ilhan Omar, with Tina Smith marching in lockstep, seem unaware of our founders' genius in the Constitution," Lewis said in in the video. "Instead, they want to debate whether we ought to even keep it."

State and national Democrats rushed to attack Lewis. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said Lewis will "have to explain the disgusting comments surfaced from his right-wing radio days attacking and disparaging women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities."

He once asked on the air, "Are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can't call her a slut?" And he once mused: "Call me a Neanderthal ... but we've rushed to this judgment that growing up with two mommies is a wonderful experience. I don't know, maybe it's not so wonderful."

Lewis, who styled himself as "Mr. Right," narrowly won election to a suburban-rural congressional seat in 2016 over Democrat Angie Craig, by less than 2 percentage points in a year when Trump carried the district by just over 1 point. In their 2018 rematch, Craig ousted Lewis by nearly 6 points amid a suburban surge for Democrats across the country that flipped the House to Democratic control.

While Lewis' "two mommies" was offensive to Craig, a married lesbian mother of four sons, she made relatively little mention of it during the 2018 campaign, when she kept her focus on health care and Lewis's strong support for Trump.

Lewis spoke in front of a sign in the Minnesota GOP booth at the State Fair that read: "Trump 2020. Keep America Great." He said the Trump campaign is "dead serious" about trying to win Minnesota in 2020, noting that Trump came within about 44,000 votes of doing so in 2016. Lewis said he and Trump will use a similar geographic strategy.

Lewis told reporters he intends to "outperform" in greater Minnesota — the portion outside the Twin Cities area — which he noted has been trending increasingly Republican in recent elections. He said that will offset Democratic strength in the cities and suburbs. And he said a key to that will be northeastern Minnesota, including the once reliably Democratic Iron Range, where Lewis predicted issues such as mining, oil pipelines and logging will give Republicans the advantage.

Smith was lieutenant governor when she was appointed to the seat in January 2018 after Democrat Al Franken resigned over sexual misconduct allegations. She retained the seat in a special election that November and is now running for her own six-year term.

Smith, who also campaigned at the State Fair as it opened Thursday, said she'll highlight their differences.

"Jason Lewis supported the Republican tax bill that gave giant tax cuts to big corporations and the richest among us, and I wouldn't have supported that," Smith told Minnesota Public Radio. "He voted to repeal the basic consumer protections that are in the Affordable Care Act. I'm opposed to that. So there are big differences. But ... right now I've got 15 months to focus on being the very best senator that I can be and really fighting for Minnesotans, and that's where my heart and mind is right now."

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Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed.

Steve Karnowski, The Associated Press