Talk about bad timing. Jason Lewis, former talk-radio host and congressman, looked like he had built up momentum for a late charge at incumbent Senator Tina Smith. Despite getting swamped out in advertising over the past month, Lewis had closed a double-digit polling gap into a virtual tie last week, and threatened to be the first Republican to win a statewide office in Minnesota in fourteen years.
Instead of riding that momentum on the campaign trail, though, Lewis rode a gurney into surgery this morning. The diagnosis — a “severe internal hernia,” according to the campaign:
The former congressman was experiencing abdominal pain and was hurried into the emergency room Monday morning for tests. Doctors determined he had a hernia, which could be life-threatening if it’s not treated fast, the campaign said in a statement. …
Lewis was optimistic as he headed into surgery, the campaign said in an announcement released at 11 a.m.
“True to form, he was speculating about when he could resume campaigning, eager to continue fighting for his fellow Minnesotans,” the campaign stated, and said it will release more information as it becomes available.
Smith offered up a classy statement wishing Lewis well:
Archie and I are wishing Jason Lewis a successful surgery and a speedy recovery.
— Tina Smith (@TinaSmithMN) October 26, 2020
KSTP reported that the surgery was a success, but so far there is little word on Lewis’ prognosis. Lewis’ planned campaign event tomorrow with Donald Trump Jr will go on as planned, Tom Hauser reports, but without Lewis. In fact, it’s tough to see how anyone recovers from major abdominal surgery quickly enough to do in-person events in eight days or less. Given the Republican emphasis on this kind of politicking, it’s a considerable setback for Lewis.
Lewis’ momentum didn’t emerge only from the KSTP-Survey USA poll, although the ten-point advance in that series was certainly eye-popping. MinnPost, a Democrat-favorable publication, conducted a survey that only had Smith up by four points, just outside of its margin of error, with Joe Biden up only five points over Donald Trump. Interestingly, Biden’s net favorability is underwater in that poll (-4) and only five points better than Trump’s (-9). Lewis and Smith are tied at +1 on favorability.
Furthermore, both Republicans have more upside among undecideds in the MinnPost poll. Twenty-two percent would choose Trump, while literally zero undecideds chose Biden, although 44% were not leaning in either direction (and another 20% wouldn’t vote at all, with the rest split between independent candidates). Lewis leads Smith 16/8 among undecideds, but 65% of those are still on the fence, with only 8% choosing to skip that race. A life-threatening injury might be a problem in getting those undecideds to back him up, especially if Lewis is too ill to make any kind of appearances between now and Election Day.
Hopefully, Lewis will fully recover quickly, for all sorts of reasons. If he’s up to it, Lewis will need to schedule some virtual events during his recovery to allay concerns over his status among those undecideds. If he can do that, it might even amplify the momentum Lewis was building — and might help boost Trump along the way, too.
Update: Team Lewis announced that the surgery was indeed a success:
GOOD NEWS! The dr. has said Jason's surgery was successful & he's optimistic Jason will be discharged within the next couple days.
In the meantime, our campaign isn't missing a beat & the fight to restore Minnesota's economy, protect our police & defend the Constitution rolls on pic.twitter.com/UAo3n0vckS
— Jason Lewis (@LewisForMN) October 26, 2020
That timeline likely precludes in-person appearances until Election Day. Lewis will have to make do with some virtual campaigning and surrogates, but that might be enough.