Minutes after winning the Republican Party endorsement for Minnesota’s only open congressional seat, Jason Lewis was repeating his pledge to support Donald Trump for president. “I said all along, all the way back last fall when this thing started that I would support the Republican nominee and I will,” he told The UpTake.
Despite winning the most delegates, Trump is having trouble winning over the national Republican establishment, who fear he could spell doom for GOP congressional candidates — particularly in swing districts such as Minnesota’s second. “I have no idea how it’s going to affect the race,” said Lewis about Trump’s impact at the top of the ticket.
Minnesota’s Democratic party is eager to remind voters of Lewis’ support for Trump. Minutes after Lewis won the endorsement on Saturday, DFL Chair Ken Martin issued a statement trying to tie Lewis to Trump’s “sexist and ignorant comments,” and urged voters to consider the endorsed Democrat, Angie Craig.
Lewis says he’s looking forward to the matchup with Craig. He said he “is willing to go toe-to-toe and have fun. This is very serious stuff, but you also have to enjoy the process and I do enjoy it. I’m having a good time.”
Braced for long convention
Video above: Jason Lewis interview after winning the GOP endorsement
Videos below: Lewis victory speech, David Gerson interview, Gerson concession speech.
The process on Saturday was expected to be a long one, with five candidates vying for the endorsement. Delegates spent the morning debating what would happen if there was no agreement on endorsing a congressional candidate. Plans were made for what to do if there were more than 20 rounds of balloting or if the convention was not finished by 10 p.m. when they had to leave the Apple Valley High School auditorium.
Going into the convention, David Gerson — not Lewis — was considered the favorite. Gerson told The UpTake that by his count he had more than 50 percent of delegates, but still less than the 60 percent needed for endorsement.
Gerson led on the first ballot, but did not have 50 percent. Lewis took the lead on the second ballot and Gerson conceded before results of the seventh ballot were announced. During the convention Lewis circulated a leaflet questioning whether Gerson could really raise the funds needed to run in the fall. It apparently had an impact. “Your duty today is to put forth the strongest candidate against a well-funded Democratic machine,” is how Lewis explained his winning message to delegates.
Gerson said he would support Lewis, saying there “wasn’t much daylight” between the two of them on the issues. However, Lewis could still face one or two of his rivals in an August primary. Businesswoman Darlene Miller announced early that she would run in the primary if she didn’t win the endorsement. Drawing only polite applause when she was speaking, it was clear that she didn’t have much support at the convention. Miller then asked for her name to be withdrawn for endorsement before there was any voting, thanked the delegates and said she would run in the primary.
Former state Senator John Howe was forced to drop out of the race after the second ballot, when he failed to get at least 10 percent of the vote. Howe told The UpTake he was still weighing whether to run in the August primary.
Transcript of Jason Lewis post-victory interview:
Lewis: We had to get this. It’s the support of the grass roots and that’s how elections are won.
Q: How’s the back doing?
Lewis: (Laughs) Funny you should ask. I’ve been on my feet it feels like for four days. But you know it’s worth it. That’s what it takes. A lot of hard work and we’re going to continue that.
I’m very pleased to get this endorsement because it was crucial, absolutely crucial, to be successful in the fall.
Q: Darlene Miller still in the race, are you going to make any overture to her that she might want to get out or?
Lewis: I’m just running hard. And if there’s a primary, there’s a primary. But I feel very good, very confident. We’ve got the grass roots at our back and we’re going to be the candidate that defeats Angie Craig in the fall.
Q: How are you doing financially then?
Lewis: Doing well. We’re doing very well. I mean I can always use more money. Who can’t? But I’m very pleased with it and this is going to help. This is clearly going to help.
Q: You outlined it in the convention, but what do you think are going to be the key issues with the fall election?
Lewis: I really think economic growth. You think of it. We’ve supposedly been on this recovery and we’re growing at .5% and median incomes and still four or five thousand down from where they were to start of the recovery, the trough of the recession. So that’s issue number one for me. If we don’t jump start the economy nothing is secure including national security.
Q: With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket for the Republicans, A) how do you think that’s going to effect your race and B) what do you think about him?
Lewis: I have no idea how it’s going to effect the race, but I said all along, all the way back last fall when this thing started that I would support the Republican nominee and I will.
Q: Were you surprised at how things turned out today? It was a close run fight for awhile and you pulled away at the end.
Lewis: David (Gerson) did a great job. You know I have nothing but praise for him and he ran an honorable campaign. I was cautiously optimistic going in. What you do is keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t worry about all the noise and distractions coming from our friends in the press or place else and you work hard. And the work paid off today and I’m very gratified.
Q: You gained votes on every ballot, what do you attribute your success to today coming from behind to win the endorsement?
Lewis: Getting home for dinner. (laughs) Look I think there were people that assessed who would be the strongest candidate against Angie Craig, who is willing to go toe-to-toe and have fun. This is very serious stuff, but you also have to enjoy the process and I do enjoy it. I’m having a good time.
Q: Was there anything in particular that you told delegates that turned the tide for them and said ‘OK I’m going to drop off of Gerson and support you?’
Lewis: I think pretty much that message that your duty today is to put forth the strongest candidate against a well-funded Democratic machine. And you know obviously a lot of my opponents thought I was the strongest candidate because they’ve been going after me. So that’s the only thing they’re right on.