A former Republican Congressman from Minnesota who once compared gay people to rapists has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
Former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis will challenge Minnesota’s junior senator, Tina Smith (D), who was appointed to replace former U.S. Sen. Al Franken and won a special election to hold onto the seat in 2018. She is expected to run for re-election to a full six-year term in 2020.
A former radio host, Lewis has often made controversial or offensive comments that have been interpreted as being hostile toward women and LGBTQ people.
Last year, BuzzFeed published some of his past comments in which Lewis compared gay people to rapists and drivers who speed. He argued that a court ruling legalizing marriage equality based on the Equal Protection Clause “would undo the entire state criminal code because we’re all treated unequally.”
“When we pass a law against rape, you’re not treating a rapist equal,” Lewis said. “The law, the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, simply means this: that people who find themselves in similar circumstances must be treated in a similar way. … You must discriminate against all smokers, you must discriminate against all rapists.”
He also argued that if same-sex marriage was legalized, then there was no reason not to permit polygamy.
“[I]f the law says that we’re not going to allow three people to marry, then you’ve got to treat everybody the same way,” he said. “No three people can marry. Same is true for gay marriage. It’s not discrimination. It’s not unconstitutional. The law discriminates all the time. It discriminates against behavior.”
Besides criticizing court decisions that legalized marriage equality, Lewis has claimed that having same-sex parents “could harm the kid,” called the idea of allowing transgender students to use the restroom or locker facility matching their gender identity an “abomination,” and has campaigned on support for laws that grant religious exemptions to business owners who oppose same-sex marriage or homosexuality.
Lewis, a staunch conservative who was labeled as “mini-Trump” by Democrats when he was elected to his single House term in 2016, said on Thursday that he was running for the Senate because it was the “last firewall for freedom” protecting Americans from the machinations of Democratic House lawmakers, particularly fellow Minnesotan U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and other members of “the Squad,” a group of young progressive politicians who rose to national prominence after being attacked by the president.
When asked about his support for Trump, Lewis said he wouldn’t distance himself from Trump’s positions on the economy, immigration, or other issues, noting that he largely agrees with the president. He claims he has the support of several of the president’s political aides, and says Trump plans to go “all in” on competing in Minnesota, report the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
But Lewis also criticized the media, saying they should be asking Smith about public positions taken by “the Squad,” which he believes are out-of-step with a majority of Minnesota voters, even as those same ideas and policies have gained traction among Democrats in recent years.
Lewis, a former radio host with a large conservative following, has widespread name recognition, particularly in the suburbs around the Twin Cities, which he represented while in Congress before losing to out lesbian Congresswoman Angie Craig in 2018.
Lewis’s ties to Trump and blunt outspokenness — which supporters admire — would almost ensure that he’d be able to raise significant amounts of money to contest the seat. Additionally, Smith, a former lieutenant governor, isn’t as well known as the state’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, and significantly under-performed Klobuchar’s margins of victory when the two were on the ballot in 2018.
In response to Lewis’s opening attacks against his boss, Smith’s campaign manager, Ryan Furlong, told the Star Tribune that the senator has been “working hard for the people of Minnesota, taking on powerful special interests and working across the aisle to get things done.”
He noted that Smith has fought “to protect health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, standing up to the big drug companies to lower prescription drug prices [and] making sure young people have the skills they need to fill high-demand jobs.”