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What's Driving Voters In Minnesota's 8th


All week long, I've been in Minnesota's 8th District. It's a couple hours north of the Twin Cities in the eastern part of the state. And this district is a big deal this year. A sitting congressman is retiring. And the district could flip to the Republicans for only the second time in more than 70 years. My first stop was Duluth, which is the urban center. It sits right on Lake Superior, and at the moment, it's kind of the liberal hub of the district. Some people told me that if I wanted to understand Duluth and the 8th District, I should go and watch some hockey. A lot of people play, including the Republican candidate Pete Stauber. He played professionally.

A professional game isn't really my speed, so I stopped by a kid's hockey practice and talked to some parents who were watching.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's our daughter, Kate, with the gray...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There she goes.

KING: Whoa.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And she shoots.

KING: When I mentioned the elections, the response was kind of, oh, boy. Something happened to Pam Landsteiner recently that really ticked her off.

PAM LANDSTEINER: I have yard signs, political yard signs in my yard, and a month or a month and a half ago or so all of our Joe Radinovich signs disappeared one night. And I was enraged by that.

KING: Joe Radinovich is the Democrat in this race. It seems like people didn't really want to mix hockey and politics, which makes sense. So we gathered a group of Duluth voters together at a local brewery. They have different political views. Some of them know each other from the rink. And the plan was to talk about the issues in Minnesota 8. I started with this question that had me really curious.

There's this term that we keep hearing, Minnesota nice. What does Minnesota nice mean?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Minnesota nice to me means when we leave our family dinner on Sunday, it takes a really long time to say goodbye.

BRIAN BILLMAN: To me, you hear it in a derogatory way like certain politicians that say they're going to do something and vote a different way, Minnesota nice.

KING: So it's like being two-faced?


JILL EISENBERG: It's non-confrontation. You know, if we're - the two of us are going to pull into a parking spot and you took the parking spot, I'd just give you a little wave, even if I'm real mad about it.

KING: I expected to talk about local issues and there was some of that. Most people think Duluth's economy is doing great. Most people are worried about health care, but for all kinds of different reasons. And everyone agreed that there's a lot of outside money coming into this race, and they don't like it. They don't like the negative ads and the ugly tone. But some of the parents at the hockey rink had said something when I asked about politics. So I wanted to know...

When you go out to vote, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much a part of your vote is Donald Trump? One is President Trump has - will have nothing to do with my vote, and 10 is he's the reason I'm going out to the polls. Where do you stand, Brian?

BILLMAN: I would say 10.

KING: Wow. You're a 10.

BILLMAN: Well, he could be a little bit more polite on Tweets and stuff like that.

KING: Brian Billman owns a facility that manufactures closets.

BILLMAN: We got a peace agreement with North Korea that no one ever thought would happen. The stock market's just crazy right now. There's a lot of good things happening.

KING: You're voting in these midterms because of President Trump. Is anybody else voting in these midterms because of President Trump?

EISENBERG: Obviously in the exact - this is Jill - exact opposite.

KING: Jill Eisenberg is a pediatric neuropsychologist.

EISENBERG: I think he has taken our country in the exact wrong direction. And by having Democratic control of the House and Senate, he can be ideally impeached - if not impeached, controlled, managed until he can be voted out of office.

MIMMU SALMELA: I'm 100 percent with Jill on this. She speaks for me very well. Thank you, Jill.

KING: That was Mimmu Salmela. She does marketing for a local college. She's an immigrant from Finland, and this is her first election.

Does anyone have a specific issue that they're voting in these midterms about?

EISENBERG: So I am almost pretty much a single-issue voter on gun control. So I remember nursing my daughter when Sandy Hook happened. My daughter is now a kindergartner. They had to do an intruder drill where they teach the children to get in the corner. And they turn off the lights. And the teacher locks the door. And they're silent until it's clear. And that's wrong. It's just wrong. And that's been interesting for me because Joe Radinovich - I have his sign in my yard...


EISENBERG: ...Has an ad on TV where he shoots a gun because he is from northern Minnesota, and gun ownership is a big issue here.

JOHN LETSON: Gun control, it just - you - it can't - people will always get a hold on guns.

KING: John Letson is a college student.

LETSON: What we should be focusing rather is like mental health issues. What drives them to that point is, I think, the more preventable thing.

EISENBERG: It's a free society. People are going to be able to find them, but I think you can take away guns that can inflict a massive amount of damage in a very short period of time.

KING: Does anyone disagree?

BILLMAN: Guns have never killed people. People kill people. And there should be tougher penalties when people do have gun violence to be a deterrent possibly. That's one good reason why I like Pete Stauber. He definitely wants tougher penalties, I would imagine, on guns.

EISENBERG: Pete Stauber is endorsed by the NRA, so I don't think he's going to be voting for an assault weapons ban.

SALMELA: I - this is Mimmu. I agree with Jill on that. There's a great quote from Paul Wellstone, we all do better when we all do better.

KING: In the five days I spent in Minnesota 8, four people told me that exact same quote from former Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. We all do better when we all do better. I don't know if that's a Minnesota nice thing.

BILLMAN: Washington should take notes from us because we all can agree to disagree but agree on a lot of stuff and cover a lot of ground and make headway.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: And even though we were at a brewery, nobody needed to be drinking to do it.

BILLMAN: Correct.

KING: At the end of the conversation, everyone shook hands, just like at the end of a hockey game. And some people stayed behind, especially the people who disagreed the most - just to keep talking.

All right. We're back now in the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in Duluth. I'm here with Aaron Brown, who's a local political blogger and a former Democratic campaign manager. Aaron, that group told me they were pretty fed up with all the outside political influence in this district this year.

AARON BROWN: That's right. And liberal and conservative people have lived alongside each other for decades in this district. And now the conversations that they have with each other, instead of that conversation we heard, are happening around what these negative ads are telling people to talk about it. It's changed a local issues electorate into one that's much more partisan and divided and that's creating a lot of unease and really disgust with the political system.

KING: Aaron Brown is a liberal political blogger in Minnesota's 8th District. Thanks, Aaron. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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