BAXTER — These aren’t the Democrats of Hubert Humphrey anymore.

And while the U.S. House of Representatives may have swung blue in the 2018 midterms, nor is Minnesota the blue stronghold it once was.

Former Congressman Jason Lewis, who lost his Congressional seat in the 2018 “blue wave,” kicked off his campaign to challenge Sen. Tina Smith with an open house at Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter.

“I’m telling you, in 2020 the stakes could not be higher,” Lewis told the assembled crowd of roughly 20 people. “Speaking of the 1960s, the difference between the Democratic platform and today … you had chaos in the streets, you had all of that in the 1960s, but you still had a few grown-ups in the Democratic party. And I’m telling you that Hubert Humphrey couldn’t get the Democratic nomination.”

Lewis is coming off a downturn in his political career — namely, losing to freshman Democrat Angie Craig by 6 percentage points in the suburban 2nd Congressional District. But the last decade has largely represented a rise to national prominence for the former radio talk show host, whose program was nationally syndicated between 2009 to 2015.

During the open house, Lewis shook hands with visitors and rubbed shoulders with prominent Republican lawmakers in the area — the likes of state Reps. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, as well as Cass County GOP Chairman Fred Hage. Resort owner Dutch Cragun stumped for his longtime friend as well.

Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

During his speech, Lewis lambasted Democrats on Capitol Hill — particularly those that form the face of the emerging progressive wing, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th District, as well as the senator he hopes to unseat: Smith.

He described the Democrats as a party run amok, that seeks to impose its authoritarian will on the American people by “offering everything, except what matters — freedom.”

In turn, Lewis defended the legacies of President Donald Trump and his own stint on Capitol Hill, the 115th Congress. While Democrats, Lewis said, alongside some members of the intelligence community and the national media are quick to attack the president on every issue — real or imagined — Trump and the GOP’s collective efforts to roll back Obamacare, make the largest tax cuts since Reagan and protect American interests in international trade have been a boon for small business owners in Minnesota.

Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Republican senate candidate Jason Lewis speaks during an open house Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Minnesota — which hasn’t selected a Republican presidential candidate since Nixon in ‘72 — is primed to elect Trump for a second term, said Lewis, who noted he looks to ride the same wave of red fervor across the state to his own seat in the U.S. Senate. While it’s been an uphill battle for GOP candidates over the decades, recent elections point to a state shifting conservative — evidenced, Lewis said, by shrinking margins for losers like McCain in ‘08, then Romney in ‘12, and then 2016 for Trump, who only lost by a mere 1.5 percentage points.

And while Trump’s brand of abrasive politics might rub some people the wrong way, Lewis said, people will vote results and good policy over socialistic propaganda from the Democrats. In his perspective, a dividing line of roughly 44,000 swing votes separates the GOP from its goals in the state.

“It’s a binary choice,” Lewis said. “I will tell you, when the top of the ticket is Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders, or Kamala Harris … there’s going to be a whole lot of people that look at that and say, ‘Well, I might not like the tweets, but I’m certainly not voting for that.’”