Rep. Pete Stauber should pay close attention to the returns from the Nov. 8 election, particularly from the traditional seven-county Arrowhead. While Stauber won re-election by a fairly comfortable margin across the Eighth, he lost in the traditional heart of the district to his DFL opponent Jen Schultz.
For a year in which the fundamentals should have allowed Stauber to coast to re-election, his political weakness in northeastern Minnesota reflects the fact that voters here generally prefer results to rank partisanship. Stauber first ran for office touting a moderate agenda, but he’s become an increasingly extreme partisan over the past two election cycles. He has substituted empty “our way of life” rhetoric and political posturing for actual accomplishment in Washington. That’s the main reason he lost the support of major newspapers in the district this year.
Stauber racked up his win this year in the southern portions of the district that were traditionally part of either the Seventh or the Sixth Districts and that have long been Republican strongholds for reasons far removed from the political and economic realities here in the Arrowhead. He lost St. Louis County by more than 12,000 votes, a 13-percentage-point-spread and he lost both Lake and Cook counties as well. While he did better on the Iron Range than in Duluth, his margins were small in places like Hibbing and Virginia and he lost in places like Eveleth.
That’s not a surprise. While the Iron Range has been trending more red in recent years, it’s never adopted the anti-government “let’s burn it all down” mentality that’s been fanned by Trump and his mentors Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. Like it or not, an Arrowhead economy that has long been at least partially dependent on resource extraction, is going to be dependent on functioning government to help the area’s workforce weather the inevitable booms and bust, be it in the mining or wood products industries. Like it or not, the “way of life” Stauber and other similar politicians like to tout frequently includes periods of extended layoffs and reliance on various government assistance programs that allow laid off employees to keep a roof over their heads.
What’s more, a region that relies on infrastructure spending to help fuel demand for the raw materials produced here hardly benefits from a member of Congress who refuses to vote for such spending.
With the GOP clinging to a razor-thin majority in the House following last week’s election, Stauber will have to decide how he wants to make use of the GOP’s renewed authority. Will he continue to act as a partisan, or might he start to hew a more independent path that’s more focused on the interests of his district?
With the party’s narrow majority, the most extremist House members are likely to hold significant influence in the new Congress and they’ve already promised endless investigations into the Biden administration, even possible impeachment for imagined “crimes.” Threats to shut down the government over whatever happens to trip their trigger at any moment are already flying.
Expect more brinksmanship over things like the debt ceiling as GOP House members suddenly resurrect “concern” over government spending given that there’s a Democrat in the White House.
None of this provides a scintilla of benefit to the Eighth District, but it will signal whether Stauber wants to be a productive representative who actually works for the good of his district, or simply a partisan who puts party over his constituents.
Stauber shouldn’t get too comfortable in the partisan role, since the voters can occasionally throw curve balls, as the right-wing starlet and QAnon promoter Lauren Boebert learned in Colorado. Voters in her solidly Republican district came within an eyelash of kicking her out of office after just one term as she put celebrity over the hard work that’s supposed to come with being a member of Congress.
With the right DFL candidate, particularly one who hails from the southern part of the Eighth, Stauber could have a real fight on his hands. Stauber could head off such a threat by taking his responsibilities seriously and working on behalf of the his district, rather than simply using his time to oppose legislation that benefits his constituents and issuing nonsensical Republican talking points. We suspect he’s capable of better. Maybe he should give better a try.
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