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Will the Range Go Red? MinnPost's Walker Orenstein

map by Greta Kaul

MinnPost is non-profit, non-partisan journalism supported by readers. Walker Orenstein covers Greater Minnesota.

November 8th is drawing near and KAXE/KBXE continues election coverage by partnering with WDSE/WRPT PBS Northand Lakeland Public Television as well as conversations with reporters like Walker Orenstein from MinnPost.

Walker Orenstein reports on the state Legislature for MinnPost, with a particular focus on covering issues affecting Greater Minnesota. He can be reached at, and you can follow him on Twitter at @walkerorenstein.

After the first week of debates on WDSE and their Northland Forum, it was fascinating to get more context on Iron Range politics - especially those open seats of Senate District 3 and 7, formerly held by DFL turned independent Senators Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni. The candidates are Republican Andrea Zupancich from Babbittand Democrat Grant Hauschild from Hermantown. Walker writes:

In such a large district, Zupancich said the main issues for voters vary. But she said there are constants. One is the cost of heating and gas. Another is education. Zupancich said children fell behind in remote learning, and called for focusing on basics like reading, writing and math.

Like Zupancich, Hauschild said different parts of the region have different top priorities.

Senate District 3 covers an enormous area that includes rural townships, small cities like Ely, International
Falls and Grand Marais, as well as the more suburban Hermantown and a small part of Duluth.

Zupancich became a real estate agent after being laid off from managing a curling club amid a mining downturn. The former K-12 substitute teacher now has a high profile in the area. In addition to being a mayor who owns a real estate business, Zupancich has ties to another prominent business — her husband is one owner of the Zup’s grocery company. She has been quoted in national outlets as an ardent supporter of copper-nickel mining.

“You can raise a family on that,”

Zupancich said. “When I was subbing I would ask kids what they would want to do when they were older and all of them said there are no jobs here, we have to go away.”

And the one-time Barack Obama voter who endorsed Lislegard in 2018 also embraced Trump as a boon to industry, appearing at a roundtable event with him in 2018 and interviewing in 2020 with Fox News host Tucker Carlson after endorsing Trump.

Zupancich met with me at a Hermantown restaurant after an event in Hinckley hosted by the International Union
of Operating Engineers Local 49, an influential union that endorsed both her and DFL opponent Grant Hauschild but whose leadership has accused many DFLers of straying from supporting industry and construction.

Her website highlights opposition to gun restrictions, support for police and opposition to Walz’s use of emergency powers during the pandemic. She says she has a good handle on what people need from traveling the district for years for real estate and as a hockey mom. Zupancich said Hauschild can’t equal that after
moving into the area from North Dakota in 2018. (Hauschild, a Hermantown city councilman since 2020, says his family chose to live in the area because they love it and said the breadth of his experience makes him a better choice.)

Outside ads also tie Hauschild and Lislegard to a House DFL vote to raise the gas tax in 2019, which was blocked by the Republican-led Senate. Hauschild wasn’t in the Legislature, while Lislegard said he knew the GOP would halt the tax and said the bill had other priorities of his that did become law.

Why does Zupancich believe voters are ready to vote for a Republican after Bakk? For one, Bakk recruited her to run and endorsed her.

Republican Senate candidate Andrea Zupancich of Babbitt talking to a prospective voter while doorknocking in Hermantown.
Walker Orenstein
Republican Senate candidate Andrea Zupancich of Babbitt talking to a prospective voter while doorknocking in Hermantown.

“I believe the parties have changed,” Zupancich said. “Republicans seem to be more for the working folk and getting things done.”

But Hauschild, whose campaign T-shirts bear the slogan “just deliver,” says it’s DFLers who have gotten things done for the district.

“We’ve always had titans and we need another one,” Hauschild said of Bakk in an interview at the Hermantown YMCA before marching in a high school homecoming parade.

“It’s my perspective that what people are looking for up here is a senator that’s ready on day one and who can make sure that they’re bringing money north so that we’re less reliant on local property taxes, we’re funding our Northland schools equitably,” he said.

The Fargo native, who lived part time in Minnesota with his dad growing up, worked as a legislative aide and political director for then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, focusing in part on labor policy. He also worked for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture under Barack Obama concentrating on rural economic development nationally. Besides serving on the Hermantown council, Hauschild is executive director of Essentia Health’s foundation.

Grant Hauschild greeting parade-goerMinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein DFL state Senate candidate Grant Hauschild greets parade-goers in Hermantown before the high school’s homecoming football game.
Walker Orenstein
Grant Hauschild greeting parade-goerMinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein DFL state Senate candidate Grant Hauschild greets parade-goers in Hermantown before the high school’s homecoming football game.

For instance, around Hermantown, people are often focused on health care issues, workforce shortages or the cost of living, he said. On the North Shore, availability of housing is a worry. People in Babbitt and Silver Bay are concerned about Cleveland-Cliffs idling its Northshore Mining taconite plant, and there are steelworkers negotiating a contract with U.S. Steel who want support for labor. Hauschild and Zupancich support extending
unemployment benefits for laid off workers at Northshore Mining.

Abortion is a top-three issue most places, said Hauschild, who doesn’t support new restrictions. Zupancich’s website says she will support “pro-life legislation,” but said in the interview that she isn’t pursuing a ban. Republicans, including Norri, often cite Minnesota’s constitutional protection forabortion.

Hauschild notes he has earned support from every prominent union in the region, even as Zupancich says she is a defender of unions. Zupancich said it’s difficult to give a “flat out yes or no” on “right to work” policy, which hasn’t been a priority of the Senate GOP. “I work with a union here at city hall and there are people that opt not to be with the union,” she said. Northshore mine
workers “opted not to be in the union … every circumstance is different.”

On mining, the DFLer has called for a “rigorous regulatory process” for copper-nickel mining projects but opposes the federal ban Biden has proposed in the Rainy River watershed, which flows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Hauschild has also earned endorsements from the mayors of Proctor, Hermantown, Grand Marais, Rainier and International Falls. He is also endorsed by Doug Johnson, the longtime senator who preceded Bakk in representing the area.

Tomassoni’s son Dante marched with Hauschild at the Hermantown parade. The NRA-endorsed Zupancich is also backed by GOP House candidate and Ely mayor Roger Skraba, the Virginia mayor Cuffe, the mayors of Winton and Eveleth and a handful of local elected officials across the district.

Check out more of KAXE/KBXE's election coverage,and thanks to MinnPost for their reporting and partnership.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.