This past week I got to sit down with Tyler Kistner, the presumptive GOP nominee in Minnesota’s 2nd District. Elections Daily currently rates this races as Likely Democratic. Below is the full transcript of my interview with him along with the full audio at the bottom. I want to thank Tyler for once again taking the time to speak with me.
What made you decide to run for Congress?
Kistner: My decision also stems from what drew me to serve this nation for nine years in the Marine Corps, which was putting service before self. I’m running to bring my experience and integrity from serving this nation as a Marine Special Forces veteran, to help change that disfunction in Washington. I’m going to work tirelessly to be a strong fighter and advocate for my district by putting the people’s interests before the special interests.
Why Minnesota’s second district?
Kistner: Me and my wife are born and raised here in Minnesota. This has always been home to us and we were both University of Minnesota-Twin Cities graduates, so Golden Gophers. After we graduated we got married, so a high school sweetheart story there and we have a three and a half year old daughter with a little baby boy on the way. This has always been home, it’s always been something we’ve wanted to come back to after my service for the country. A big thing too is we got four free babysitters with the grandparents.
The second district just happened to be the place me and my wife moved back to after my time serving in the country. Just so happened as we were looking at everything, I decided to run and it felt like the right choice. It’s a beautiful area. There’s definitely a lot younger and more like-minded people in this district as well. A lot younger individuals moving down to this part of the district and the suburbs to get away from the cities. We just want to be around young people who have children the same age as my daughter which helps having more friends for her too.
Your district is considered a stretch district at best for Republicans in this environment. Why do you think you can flip it back?
Kistner: This district is one of thirty that the President won in 2016 that’s currently held by a Democrat and if you look at them all, it’s the 12th-most Republican leaning of them all. To say it’s a stretch, it’s hard to say that because people in this district are independent swing voters, most lean Republican. I really wouldn’t say it’s too Democratic as much that it’s a true swing district and one thing that people look for. They love their veterans here, but also as independent swing voters they love to see people who are best going to represent them and their values as well as be a fighter and advocate on their behalf in D.C. That’s exactly what I bring, is that mentality of servant leadership to be a resource for the people.
You were able to out-raise Angie Craig this past quarter. Do you think that will change some people’s perspectives on how competitive this race is?
Kistner: Yes, and you can call her my opponent because both I and her have no primary opponent. So we are both the respective nominees as well as a third party candidate on the ballot too.
Fundraising is something that is crucial in campaigns, especially in a swing district because the ability to get your message out there and to get your name out there is crucial to getting the support of the constituents. That fundraising definitely changed people’s opinions of this race. It let them see that this is truly a battleground district and what we’re seeing as we get our message out there and who I am and what I’ve done and my vision for this district, a lot more people are open-minded to want to get behind that movement. It is something we are definitely going to take advantage of with the strong fundraising we had.
What has fundraising been like being a first-time candidate?
Kistner: It was a learning point up front, but that’s where it’s crucial to have a strong, effective team around you. That’s exactly what I was able to do, build a strong team around me to help with it. It definitely started off tough, but as we continued to progress and build a message along with the strength of this campaign. It was a easy message and a top 25 race nationally that people could get behind and a candidate that they could feel comfortable supporting. Especially one that has such a great chance to win like I do.
Do you think the GOP should be targeting Minnesota more right now rather than pumping money into a place like New Mexico?
Kistner: They are investing quite a bit of money into this race and just with the current situation with COVID and with the economy, it’s not helping. Especially with a lot of the messaging being pushed by the media. This actually is a much tighter race than people actually see on the national level. Us doing a baseline poll as well as getting out there and talking with the voters and door-knocking to have the conversations, it’s a lot closer than a lot of those national level polls show. The amount of resources and effort the Republican Party and the Trump campaign are investing are seeing gains in a positive direction. His campaign headquarters are based in my district.
How much has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how you campaign?
Kistner: I mean it’s changed everyone’s ability to campaign, but it also helps us focus and narrow our efforts on what is actually going to help build up the strength of this campaign, but also just really how we engage with the voters is what’s changed the most. We’re taking full advantage of every opportunity we can to meet folks. I’m going out to farmer markets and meeting with people that way. I’m also going to a couple food truck vendor events outdoors and then meet and greets. We are still getting out there, we are still being just as effective of engaging with the constituents. It just helps us focus a little more. We’re not doing the parades every week and that’s about the only difference.
Being in the suburbs of Minneapolis, the killing of George Floyd has become a focal issue in your area. Has that event changed how you perceive certain issues in and around your district?
Kistner: Yes, it definitely has changed it. My heart goes out to George Floyd’s family, the loss that they had to experience you never want any. American to have to go through.
But this follow up movement of cancel culture and defunding the police has actually helped us here in the second congressional district. Because we are a majority suburbs district, plus the southern, more rural part of the community, the defunding the police movement is one of the top issues for a lot of the voters and something they don’t want to hear about. So us being able to stand up and support the police but to support them to ensure they are getting the right amount of resources as necessary and the effective training to make sure they can conduct their job safely and effectively. This also means ensuring the communities are safe as well. That is a message a lot of people really resonate towards in this district and it’s actually been something to help us and be more of a benefit to the GOP.
Your campaign slogan is “Send in the Marine”. How much has your military service affected your politics, if at all?
Kistner: Everyone’s experiences help shape their opinions and mindset. What the military helped with me was an ability to take people from different cultures, backgrounds and viewpoints and bring them all together to accomplish a common goal and purpose. What’s that helped me do in running this campaign is bringing an ability to be an independent thinker and being able to work with both sides, really trying to bring civility back to Washington instead of the obstruction and divisiveness that you get. I’d say it helped a lot, but it also helped mature me and make me realize what real leadership is and what servant leadership is.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times the dysfunction in Washington. How do you think you can go in there and make an impact to change some things and get back to focus on the “dinner plate issues.”
Kistner: The biggest way to do it is by starting a conversation, but starting it in a civil manner. You get too many people trying to be bomb throwers and trying to go farther right or further left on the issues. You have to fight and be an advocate, but at the same time you have to approach everything with a conduct of civility. One thing I’ve been talking about with another Congressman, Mike Gallagher, who’s part of the Problem Solvers Saucus. So is a Democrat representative from Minnesota.
They meet every Tuesday, they sit down, twenty-five Republicans and twenty-five Democrats and they talk about the “dinner plate” hard issues. That’s exactly where you start. You try to find where you come to agreement, you understand there’s already going to be disagreement on things, but you have to find out where you agree on how you can continue to progress America forward for the better.
You’ve put support for increased infrastructure spending on your issues page, which is something that Republicans seem to ignore in most other races. Do you think it’s time for the GOP to start focusing on infrastructure renewal more as a party?
Kistner: I wouldn’t say they’re not completely focusing on it. I think there’s some other priorities, especially right now that they’re trying to deal with. But yes, we do need to address the infrastructure because we’re having crumbling 20th century infrastructure when other countries are moving well into the 21st. We need to make sure we move to upgrade our infrastructure, especially in my district, but across the entire nation because that’s going to help the economy overall.
What would be the day-one issue for you if you were elected to Congress to serve your district?
Kistner: The top issue right now, and its not just for my district, it’s for the entire country and it’s something everyone is talking about and that’s the economy. Fighting to get this economy back on its feet, getting people back to work, bringing back more jobs to this country and not having such an over-reliance on jobs from overseas. It’s about bringing them back here so we can really continue to progress this economy back to the record highs we had back in January and get unemployment back to it’s record lows.