Rep. Jen Schultz of Duluth challenges Stauber for Congress

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press

ST. PAUL Minn. (AP) — Democratic state Rep. Jen Schultz, of Duluth, entered the race for Congress in northeastern Minnesota on Monday, giving her party a credible challenger to Republican incumbent Pete Stauber in a district that’s been trending toward the GOP.

After making the announcement in Virginia and Duluth, Schultz headed for the State Capitol, where around 20 Democratic lawmakers joined her in a show of support, including from House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, who touted her record of getting things done.

“Unfortunately, Pete Stauber, our current congressman in the 8th, has done nothing good for Minnesota or the 8th Congressional District,” Schultz told reporters. She specifically faulted him for voting against President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill and supporting an unsuccessful Texas lawsuit to invalidate Biden’s election victory.

And while Stauber has long depicted himself as a champion of northeastern Minnesota’s mining industry, Schultz charged that it’s just been “lip service.” She said she supports miners and the mining industry, adding: “I support good union jobs and believe that we can have both mining and the environmental protections that we need to protect the area for future generations.”

Schultz is a health care economics professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and is serving her fourth term in the Minnesota House, where she chairs the human services committee.

“Jen has a history of success in our divided and sometimes partisan Legislature,” Hortman said, citing her record on health care, drug prices and protections for seniors.

Schultz told reporters she wasn’t planning on running for Congress when she announced three weeks ago that she wouldn’t seek another legislative term, but that she was then flooded with calls from Iron Range voters, farmers and union activists urging her to challenge Stauber.

While the 8th District historically had been a Democratic stronghold, it has trended Republican in recent elections as the GOP picked up blue collar support on the Iron Range and the district expanded south toward the Twin Cities. Former President Donald Trump carried it by just over 15 points in 2016 and just under 15 in 2020. Stauber won by 5.5 points in 2018 and 19 points in 2020.

The state’s court-drawn redistricting plan pushed the district westward, but didn’t change the political balance much, although it now includes all eight of the state’s Ojibwe reservations.

Former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who represented the 8th from 2013 to 2019, has endorsed Schultz.

Also seeking the Democratic nomination is progressive activist Ernest Joseph Oppegaard-Peltier III, of Bemidji, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota.

Republicans made it clear that they plan to tie Schultz to Biden and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Forced to endure skyrocketing inflation, record-high gas prices, and anti-mining policies that kill Iron Range jobs, voters in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District aren’t interested in sending Jennifer Schultz to Washington to be another rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Preya Samsundar said in a statement.