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Election 2020 preview: Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District

It's a race between Democratic incumbent Rep. Dean Phillips and political newcomer and Republican Kendall Qualls.
Phillips qualls

Bring Me The News is looking at each of Minnesota's nine congressional races (eight House, one Senate) in the lead up to the Nov. 3 election. 

Today we look at the 3rd Congressional District.

Who's running?

District map

Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District encompasses much of western Hennepin County and portions of Carver and Anoka counties.

Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District encompasses much of western Hennepin County and portions of Carver and Anoka counties.

What happened last time?

Phillips, of Deephaven, a first-time candidate and businessman who is heir to Phillips Distilling Co., unseated Republican incumbent Erik Paulsen in the 2018 election, marking the first time since 1961 that a Democrat is representing the 3rd Congressional District. 

Phillips, who ran on an "Everyone's Invited" message, won 55.61% of the vote to defeat Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, who garnered 44.2%. Paulsen had represented the western metro in Congress since 2009 and before that served in the Minnesota House of Representatives starting in 1995.

The race so far

The 2020 race will solidify whether the 3rd Congressional District has in fact shifted to be more liberal than it has been for the last 50 years, and it looks like that may happen – political experts say the district is safe for the DFL, with the Star Tribune noting Qualls has an uphill battle against Phillips, who can self-finance to get his message across to voters.

Both Phillips and Qualls are hoping to woo moderates and undecided voters, saying they'll work across party lines to get things done for the people in their district.

Phillips ran on this message in 2018, and is again in his re-election bid. The congressman says he's chosen optimism over fear and division for his campaign, using positive ads targeted at independent voters that give people something to vote for instead of reasons to dislike his opponent.

This year, Phillips continues to tout his bipartisan work as a Congressman, saying he's on the House Problem Solvers Caucus of 25 DFLers and 25 GOPers who work together across the partisan divide and that he's been named by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the 27th most bipartisan member out of all 437 House members.

It's this point, though, that the Minnesota GOP and Qualls have focused on as a reason not to vote for Phillips, saying he's not bipartisan at all and votes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the "far-left" of his party the majority of the time. (Phillips has said he's voted 393 times with U.S. Sen. Pete Stauber (R-Minnesota) and 79 times with Pelosi.)

In a debate with Phillips on MPR News on Oct. 16, Qualls said "When you look at the voting record you'll see that my opponent aligns himself with the far left of his party." 

Qualls, a healthcare executive and former Army officer who lives in Medina, is a newcomer to the political scene who says he's running to bring authentic leadership to the 3rd Congressional District, noting he'll "put aside partisan gameplaying and focus on the issues that matter" to bring the country together and make it stronger than before.

Despite his potential uphill battle against Phillips, Qualls has seen an influx in donations in recent weeks, with a news release saying he raised $873,000 in the third quarter of the election cycle, indicating he has "support and momentum from swing and independent voters."

The Minnesota DFL though says Qualls doesn't care about the people in his district, saying Qualls moved to Minnesota from Colorado after the 2016 election with the intention of running for Congress in the 5th Congressional District, adding that he's campaigning on Trump's playbook and is a loyal supporter of the president.

Where do the candidates stand?

Both candidates have made health care a main talking point, which comes at a time when it's even more front and center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the two candidates don't agree on how health insurance should be handled, and in an MPR News debate, the two sparred over the issue. 

Phillips supports fixing and improving the Affordable Care Act, while expanding Medicare to give people the option to buy into government-run health care options and reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

"The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — was the best policy we had in our generation to expand care to more Americans. I favor the private and nonprofit delivery of care in America and I always will,” Phillips said during the debate on MPR News. “I believe in a public option. It combines conservative thinking with liberal thinking. That we should have more freedom to choose and more competition.”

However, Qualls says this "public option" would hurt federal programs and weaken private insurance markets. Instead, he supports "creating new, competitive health insurance and payment plans that eliminate provider networks, giving patients’ freedom to buy healthcare from any willing provider – and that encourage providers to set up independent clinics and care centers," he tweeted.

They have also disagreed in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Phillips saying the country should never be in this position, criticizing how the president has handled things, noting he supports a nationwide testing plan and passing a bipartisan relief bill to help people and businesses who are suffering.

Qualls, meanwhile, said during the MPR News debate that the focus should be on getting a vaccine on the market and getting people tested, while also opening schools and getting the economy back to provide a sense of normalcy. He has also pledged, if elected, to reduce his salary by 20% or donate the equivalent to help Minnesotans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualls, who is endorsed by the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police, has focused his campaign on public safety, expressing support for President Trump's law and order message. In his ad, titled "Courage," Qualls is standing in front of destruction in Minneapolis from the civil unrest following George Floyd's death, calling for people to face the challenges of race without destroying each other.

Qualls says on his website, "We should adequately support and fund the police while implementing meaningful changes to policing practices, training, and disciplining procedures."

Meanwhile, Phillips also does not support defunding the police. Instead, he believes police departments should be reimagined to build trust between police and the community they serve and address the inequities in the criminal justice system.

Phillips voted in favor of The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is designed to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement and build trust between police and the communities they serve. 

You can find each candidate's stance on other issues on their websites below:

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