The first debate between Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) and his challenger, State Senator Terri Bonoff (DFL), was really about two people who weren’t in the room.
Paulsen wanted it to be about former House Speaker and now Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But he didn’t want it to be about Donald Trump… his party’s presidential candidate, who is becoming a huge turnoff to a large part of the electorate.
“Terri, you’ve been bragging that Nancy Pelosi recruited you to run for the race and essentially you’re her handpicked candidate,” said Paulsen. “And she has literally nearly three million dollars on television from her super pacs stored up and ready to run.”
“Actually, Erik Paulsen has sent out a letter when he’s been fundraising saying I was Nancy Pelosi’s hand picked candidate. I’ve never said that,” shot back Bonoff. “I did not talk to Nancy Pelosi during that time period when I was considering running. I did get a call from some other people who encouraged me to run. And you know what got me to run? It wasn’t a call, it was Donald Trump got me to run. I’m running because Donald Trump is in this race. That’s why I’m running.”
Paulsen tried to turn Bonoff’s statement into a negative. “That’s not the right reason to run for congress,” said Paulsen calling it a “cynical reason.”
Bonoff countered that she was not cynical and was running to get the word out that Trump was a “dangerous” candidate. “As he’s insulted women and called them fat pigs and made fun of people with disabilities and smeared gold star families and now talking about the spread of nuclear weapons and walking away from NATO, that is not somebody fit to be Commander In Chief.”
Bonoff said that Paulsen has not denounced Trump. Paulsen countered, “I don’t think any candidate necessarily has to be in the position of denouncing anyone running for president. But I did step out as early as last summer criticizing Donald Trump when he was saying inappropriate things about women. Saying he was not a good messenger for our party long before Terri ever got in the race.”
“Donald Trump has not earned my vote,” said Paulsen. An answer he would repeat several times over the next hour. “The candidate I endorsed is not on the ballot this fall.”
Moderator Tom Hauser pushed Paulsen for a more definitive answer. “Trump has not earned your support, but is it possible he could earn your support and what would that take?”
Paulsen again wouldn’t give a direct answer. “We have two candidates running who have higher unfavorables than favorables.”
“Is there anything specific he could do to earn your vote?” asked Hauser.
“There’s nothing specific right now.”
“But you haven’t ruled it out?”
“Nothing specific right now.”
“Don’t you deserve to know who your elected leader is going to vote for for the President of the United States?” asked Bonoff.
As the debate wore on, Paulsen mentioned Pelosi several times. Saying that if elected, Bonoff would likely vote for Pelosi as Speaker of the House and that would lead to higher taxes. Bonoff said she had not decided who to vote for speaker. But when the debate ended, the media questions for Bonoff and Paulsen were not about Pelosi. They were, again, about Donald Trump.
“Congressman, what does it mean when you say that he hasn’t earned your vote?” asked WCCO-TV reporter Pat Kessler of Paulsen, pressing for a more definitive answer. “Who you going to vote for? Who you going to vote for?”
Paulsen reprised his answer from the debate, “Who ever earns my vote. Because the candidate I endorsed is not on the ballot right now.”
“So it might not be a Republican?” asked Kessler.
“The candidate I endorsed is not on the ballot,” repeated Paulsen.
“So up to election day he can still earn your vote?” asked Minnesota Public Radio Reporter Tim Pugmire.
“We’ll see. Anyone can earn my vote…except Hillary Clinton.”
Video at top: Talk of Donald Trump at the Paulsen-Bonoff debate
Video below: Paulsen wants to talk about Nancy Pelosi