WASHINGTON — Jill Abahsain had never considered running for Congress until last spring when she was asked to run against Michelle Fischbach, a Republican Representative for Minnesota’s 7 th Congress District seat.
“She (the DFL official), said that we don’t have a candidate ,”’ Abahsain stated. “And I agreed because I don’t believe anyone should run unopposed.”
Abahsain does not consider herself a political novice. Abahsain ran unsuccessfully for the DFL seat of state senator in District 12 in 2020. She is also active in her local community and a Planned Parenthood volunteer. Abahsain, like many who are challenging Minnesota’s congressional incumbents this year, has had difficulty raising campaign cash.
According to the Federal Elections Commission’s latest reports, Abahsain’s campaign raised less than $10,000 for her race while Fischbach raised more than $1.4million.
Abahsain admitted that the congressional campaign is far underfunded. “I am running a thin but agile campaign.”
Abahsain, as with other candidates for Minnesota congressional incumbents, is running in a district that is economically disadvantaged. The 7 th District voted for President Trump 63% to 34%.
Yet, every year, Abahsain and other underdog candidates run for Congress to overcome incredible odds. The U.S. House of Representatives had a nearly 95% reelection rate in 2020, and this winning record isn’t likely to change.
Jacob Rubashkin, of Inside Elections, stated that “At the end, everyone runs for Congress because they have their own reasons.” “Some people do it out of obligation. They feel that voters should always be able to make a decision, even if the outcome is predictable. They will run if there is no one else.
A native Minnesotan, Abahsain now lives in Sauk Centre. She spent 25 years living in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. She said that she saw autocratic governments as well as undemocratic elections. She felt strongly that Fischbach must be challenged. She said that running against Fischbach gives her the opportunity to engage and interact with other DFL’s in the district, something she says she loves.
Abahsain described her race as “cathartic.” It allows you to talk to people, not just shout at the TV.
Rubashkin stated that some challengers don’t believe their election is likely to be a long shot or that they really believe they can pull off an upset.
He said, “In the age Trump and AOC (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez D-NY), there were many prominent examples of people to whom little or no chance of winning their election.”
Jen Schultz is running against Rep. Peter Stauber (R-8 th District). The long-term role model for Wellstone is the former Minnesota Senator, who ran in opposition to Rudy Boschwitz, a two-term GOP incumbent, in 1990. Wellstone, widely regarded as an underdog was outspent heavily by Boschwitz. He won his surprise victory using grassroots campaigning tactics.
Schultz stated, “I recall when they discounted Wellstone.”
Schultz, like Abahsain had no plans to run for Congress after she retired from the state House after eight years of service. When asked by the Farmers Union to challenge Stauber, she initially declined.
Schultz stated that “I basically said no” and then was asked again. It’s not an easy decision making it to run for Congress. “I felt it was my responsibility to offer people the option.”
Michael Minta, University of Minnesota political science professor, said that it is beneficial for party members to nominate a candidate even though the odds of him winning are against them, in order to encourage party voters and get to the polls.
Minta stated that “Parties still have to get people to vote.”
He stated that in congressional districts where a party has been at disadvantage, it is necessary for voters to turn out in support of its candidates in state-wide elections that are close.
Minta stated, “They look at the bigger picture.”
The Wellstone effect
Jeanne Hendricks is a Democrat running for Rep. Tom Emmer (R-6 h district), which may be the most difficult race.
Emmer, who is the head of the National Republican Campaign Committee has the resources Hendricks cannot dream of. He could win a post as the GOP House leader if his party takes control of the chamber from The Democratic Party in November’s Midterms.
Hendricks, a nurse anesthetist said that she was motivated by Trump’s presidency and the “propaganda, lies and lies” it produced.
She stated that Emmer was too aligned to Trump’s policies and not the district’s priorities. She knows it is a difficult climb.
Hendricks stated, “I understand that because of its history.” “But that’s changing.”
Since 2003, the 6 th district has been unrepresented by a Democrat in Congress. It gave Trump 58% to 38% victory over Biden in 2020.
Hendricks stated that people often tell her she is in a David against Goliath situation.
Hendricks stated that she tells the naysayers, “Well, it kind of like how that turned.”
Hendricks, like Shultz pointed out Wellstone’s unexpected victory as proof that an underdog can win its day.
She said, “Anything could happen.”
Some GOP long-shot challengers are also present in Minnesota’s congressional elections.
One is May Lor Xiong from St. Paul, who is challenging Rep. Betty McCollum D-4 th district. This St. Paul-centered area has not been represented since 1949 by a Republican and McCollum has held the seat since 2020.
Lor Xiong is a Hmong refugee who said that she is running for office as a Republican in a Democratic district to defend what she sees as the decline of the “American Dream” which is being “under attack from the left.”
Republican Cicely Davis, a conservative longshot, is challenging progressive icon Rep. Ilhan Olam in the 5 th Congress District. Davis, unlike other political underdogs has raised more than $2.2million in campaign cash.
Davis not only raised a lot out-of-state cash, but also gained a bit of a national reputation among Republicans who detest Omar’s progressiveness.
Rubashkin stated that “there are many ways to win” even if one doesn’t win the election.
He said, “Running for office will raise your profile and set you up for another run down, perhaps when politics are more favorable.” It can help you get another non-elected government job. It could be used to earn a credential in business.
Jennifer Carnahan, former Minnesota GOP leader, is an example. Carnahan was a longshot candidate against Bobby Joe Champion, DFL incumbent in Minnesota’s 59 th Senate district. Although Carnahan was defeated in the district that is heavily DFL, his challenger emerged one year later to become the head of the state GOP. This position she held until 2021.
Rubashkin said that “in this age and age”, long-shot candidates “can continue to secure book contracts or media gigs.”
There’s always something to be reminded. Most of the U.S. presidents, including Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama, lost elections but learned from their mistakes to win future victories.