Showdown 2018 in Minnesota’s Fightin’ Eighth District

PHOTO: Ed Schipul, Flickr Creative Commons license

Welcome to the Fightin’ Eighth!

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan announced his retirement from the Minnesota Eighth District seat in Congress in 2018. That makes the nation’s closest and most expensive House race a wide-open free-for-all in the midterm elections.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown

My name is Aaron Brown. I’m a college teacher and longtime Iron Range journalist and writer. Though I have loose ties to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party I independently cover local politics as part of my blog MinnesotaBrown.com and my column for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I’m an author and historian. I’m also a radio show host and producer for Northern Community Radio in Grand Rapids and Bemidji.

Recent news in MN-8

MN-8 News Archive

Who’s running for Congress in MN-8?

Last year, Leah Phifer announced she would challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. Nolan dropped out after the precinct caucuses, but Phifer dropped out after DFL delegates opted not to endorse a candidate after their convention in April. A contentious August 14 primary election awaits DFLers, while Republicans seem to be set.

  • DFL: Kirsten Hagen Kennedy, Michelle LeeJason Metsa, Joe Radinovich, Soren C. Sorensen
  • GOP: Pete Stauber, Harry Welty
  • Independence Party: Ray “Skip” Sandman
    • Where is Minnesota’s Eighth District?

      Minnesota Eighth District

      MN-08 is a large northern and east central Minnesota region larger than the state of West Virginia. It includes several distinct regions with widely different political leanings, much like an entire state would.

      • Duluth: The largest city and regional center of the district. Very liberal and a key part of the DFL coalition.
      • Iron Range: Broadly speaking the cities of the Mesabi and Vermilion iron ranges run from Grand Rapids along a line that runs northeast to Ely. This region, as a whole, once equalled Duluth’s population but no longer does. Formerly a DFL labor bastion, the region has become more “purple” in recent years as the debate over mining jobs created resentment over environmental regulation. The region is also older and includes more conservative retirees than it once did. The Range political region also includes non-Range counties like Koochiching, Lake and Cook, though these places are remote and less culturally tied to the Range. Despite its shift in recent years, Range towns still lean DFL most of the time.
      • Bemidji Area: The outskirts of the city joined the district after 2012. Bemidji is a North Central college town surrounded by three Ojibwe reservations. Though the city and reservations are fairly solid DFL, other areas around the city are much more conservative. Wadena, Cass, Hubbard and Beltrami counties are in this zone.
      • Brainerd Lakes: Brainerd, with its twin city of Baxter, is a swing city surrounded by mostly conservative areas. This area encompasses the rest of Crow Wing County, including the Cuyuna Iron Range cites of Crosby and Ironton. The region once leaned consistently to the DFL but has become very conservative in recent elections. One of Rick Nolan’s strengths was neutralizing this area because he was from rural Crosby and well-liked there.
      • Rural Central: Aitkin, Mille Lac, Kanebec, Morrison, Pine, and Carleton counties. Some DFL areas, but mostly conservative retirees and lake home dwellers.
      • Exurban South: Isanti and Chisago counties. People here often commute into the Twin Cities and the whole area is fully served by Twin Cities media market. Very strong GOP area.

      History of the Minnesota Eighth District

      Through the first 50 years of Minnesota statehood, this region was represented by a Republican in Congress. The election of 1902 put James Bede, a newspaper man from Pine County, into office. In 1908, he lost his GOP nomination to Clarence B. Miller, a conservative lawyer from Duluth.

      Miller held the seat until 1918 when train engineer William Carss of the upstart Farmer-Labor Party defeated him. Carss became the first non-Republican to hold the seat, but only for one term. He lost re-election to Duluth Republican Oscar Larson in 1920. When Larson opted not to run in 1924, Carss returned to office.

      This time Carss served two terms before losing to conservative Republican lawyer William Pittenger in 1928. Pittenger would serve most of the next 16 years, though was ousted for one term in 1936 by John T. Bernard of the Farmer-Labor party. Also, in 1932 the district was idled as Minnesota’s nine Congressmen were elected as a statewide slate.

      Bernard holds the distinction of being the only vote against the Spanish arms embargo during the Spanish civil war. He also held not-so-secret sympathies with the early American communist party, himself blacklisted from the mines for union organizing.

      In 1938, Pittenger returned to office but ultimately lost in 1948 to Chisholm’s John Blatnik of the newly merged Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Blatnik, a WWII special agent in Yugoslavia and a friend of John Kennedy’s, would serve until his retirement in 1974. Blatnik’s aide Jim Oberstar, another Chisholm DFLer, would be elected his successor. Oberstar served until 2010, a lion of the House, until defeated in a shocking 2010 race against Republican Chip Cravaack.

      Cravaack served one term, defeated by current U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a DFLer from Crosby. Nolan had represented central Minnesota in Congress in the late 1970s, but his home turf was now part of the 8th.

      Once considered the “Iron Range and Duluth” seat, the Minnesota Eighth District is larger now and includes vast parts of central Minnesota, too. Though seen as a DFL seat in modern times, its history shows its true tradition: political volatility.