Republicans are sending in a Marine to challenge first-term U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat, in the south suburban 2nd Congressional District.

Party activists endorsed former U.S. Marine Corps officer Tyler Kistner of Prior Lake during a virtual convention Saturday. Kistner, a political newcomer, outpolled four other candidates to win GOP backing on the first ballot.

Former state Rep. Regina Barr of Inver Grove Heights finished second, followed by former Air Force Lt. Col. Erika Cashin of Apple Valley. Kerry Zeiler, an attorney from Cottage Grove, placed a distant fourth, and a fifth candidate, attorney Rick Olson of Prior Lake, dropped out moments before the first ballot was cast.

Kistner, Barr and Cashin all cast themselves as strong conservatives, but Kistner, a political newcomer, appeared to appeal to activists as an energetic candidate who was most likely to win. He got a boost from the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of GOP U.S. House members, who named him to their “Young Guns” list of top candidates, which is their seal of approval.

That helped his campaign raise more than $157,000 through March 31, far outpacing Barr and Cashin in the money race.

But he’s up against a well-funded incumbent in Craig, who had raised $2.8 million by the end of March.

The 2nd District — which covers Dakota, Goodhue, Scott and Wabasha counties and part of Rice County — is a swing district that’s expected to have one of the most competitive congressional races in Minnesota this year.

Craig won the seat in 2018 by 5.6 percentage points, unseating Republican incumbent Jason Lewis. But Trump won the district by 1.2 points in 2016, and the Republican National Committee named Craig one of their top targets last fall.

In a speech to the GOP convention, Kistler asked: “What do I want? I want to help all of us by being the servant leader this district needs.

“We need a government to do what the Democrats never wanted to do: just stay out of the way. A limited government that works for all America because conservative values work. An America- and Minnesota-first message of getting the economy back to prosperity, making health care truly affordable through patient-centered private health care plans and cutting government spending and addressing national debt.”

A Minnesota native, Kistner joined the Marines after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in international relations. He was commissioned as an infantry officer in a special-operations command known as the Marine Raiders and was deployed overseas four times during his nine-year military career. He is married, and he and his wife have one daughter.

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