The candidates for Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District squared off in a heated debate Monday night in one of the nation’s most competitive and closely-watched congressional races.
Since 1947, the district has only elected one Republican who served just one term, but went to President Donald Trump by more than ten points in the 2016 election, making it a particularly unpredictable district heading into the midterms. According to the latest New York Times poll, Democrat Joe Radinovich leads Republican Pete Stauber 44 percent to 43 percent—a statistical tie.
During Monday night’s debate in Brainerd, Minn., the two struck an emotional chord when discussing gun control as both candidates recalled how gun violence has personally impacted their lives.
Stauber, who served as a Duluth police officer before entering politics, was shot twice during his career, one time nearly killing him.
“An individual pulled a gun on me, pulled the trigger, and by the grace of God it malfunctioned,” he recalled. “I was fighting for my life. I still support our Second Amendment.”
Radinovich, on the other hand, lost his mother to gun violence at the hands of a disgruntled relative.
“Gun violence has had an impact on my life. I understand that not every problem we’re dealing with when it comes to gun violence is the same,” he said, noting that he supports universal background checks as well as a ban on bump-stocks and high-capacity magazines.
Throughout the debate, the two candidates repeatedly butted heads over Trump, with Stauber crediting the president for bringing mining jobs back to the region while Radinovich suggested that it’s actually President Barack Obama who’s responsible for the booming economy.
“I will never blindly follow anyone. I’m an independent thinker and I will always do what’s right,” Stauber said while fighting back against Radinovich’s characterization of him as a Trump crony.
“What I think happens too often in this election is Pete has ducked his positions,” Radinovich claimed, suggesting that Stauber would support a plan circulating among Republicans to cut back on Social Security and Medicare benefits to trim down the national debt.
On the issue of health care, Stauber attacked Radinovich’s support of a universal program, which Stauber believes would “abolish employee care.” Instead, the Republican backs association health plans that allow employers in similar industries to group together to provide better coverage.
After the debate, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party put out a press release claiming that Stauber refused to “lay out policy positions” at the debate, cherry-picking several quotes from Stauber to make their case.
“On issue after issue, Pete Stauber refused to say what his positions are and what he would advocate for if elected. If Stauber’s not careful, voters are going to start referring to him as ‘No Position Pete,'” the DFL said in its press release, claiming that Stauber “offered a litany of platitudes and false promises.”
While Stauber and Radinovich were the only two candidates on stage, Independence Party candidate Ray Sandman was in the audience and caused a stir when he interrupted the debate to voice his dissatisfaction.
“I’m here to show my face, to say it’s not right,” he said, criticizing one of the debate’s sponsors. “The League of Women Voters is supposed to share information on all candidates.”
Stauber and Radinovich will face off Nov. 6 for the open seat vacated by Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-08), who is retiring.
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