Minnesota’s Fightin’ 8th readies for its closeup

We’re entering the final countdown of the 2010 election, a contest that will go down as a very informative historical study on the voting habits of (in no particular order) Americans, Minnesotans and the people of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

It’s good that I have been plowing through “The Rise of American Democracy” by Sean Wilentz during this campaign. It helps knowing that as crazy as things seem now, with the rise of the tea party and the like, that our nation was a good deal crazier and significantly more fragile in the early 19th century leading up to the Civil War, still this nation’s ultimate existential crisis. So I have the perspective of knowing that a Republican landslide would have much less impact now than when democratic-republican landslides 200 years ago launched us into the War of 1812, which almost caused us to lose the northeast and the Upper Midwest to the British. It was lonely being a federalist then, significantly more lonely than being a liberal on Tuesday. For some reason I have the image of Paul Giamatti merging his performance as John Adams in the biopic of the same name with his Oscar-nominated turn in “Sideways,” drinking his best wine from a brown paper bag in a fast food restaurant, careful not to stain his powdered wig.

I’ve highlighted some local Iron Range races of note. I’ll be very interested in the governor’s and state legislative races, for implications abound over political leadership and quality of life in this state regardless of your party stripe. But the big event for a northern Minnesota political junkie has to be the outcome of the suddenly competitive Minnesota 8th Congressional District race between Jim Oberstar and Chip Cravaack (both pictured above right).

Setting aside my personal loyalties to Jim Oberstar, this race will be very telling about the political make-up of Minnesota’s 8th over the next 10 years or maybe more. On one hand it could seem shocking that a 36-year incumbent like Oberstar would find himself in a statistical tie in a Survey USA poll heading into this week. But in retrospect there should only be some surprise. The 8th is only marginally Democratic in non-Congressional races. MN-8 is becoming more demographically similar to the other Lake Superior districts WI-7 and MI-1, both of which are tossup races likely to break Republican this year. I’ve warned of this change in the past. My only surprise is that we’d be having this conversation before Jim Oberstar retired.

The credit there really must go to Cravaack, whose enthusiastic campaign (and lack of specifics) has made him very attractive to the kind of independent conservatives and marginal Republicans who have given Oberstar his huge margins over the years. When the race tightened the Cravaack campaign responded with gusto and the Oberstar campaign, with its guns fixed out to sea, a la “Lawrence of Arabia, wasn’t prepared for the surprise attack. We’ve seen Oberstar return fire via the TV ad wars in the Duluth market, but it should be known that if Cravaack prevails it will be because of his phantom insurgency.

I still predict an Oberstar win, but it could be a long night and a margin closer to 53-47 than my earlier prediction of 57-43. The main question I have on the polling of the 8th is the geographic balance. Duluth will be weighted as the district’s biggest and most Democratic city, but I don’t know how national pollsters account for the odd voting patterns of the Iron Range. Cravaack will do very well in the populous exurban southern districts of the Eighth, which generally report first. Oberstar will start the night behind, hoping for Duluth and the Iron Range to hold the line. I suspect they will, but it could be close. Look for towns like Hibbing or Virginia. If Oberstar is under 60 percent in these place, there will be trouble. If he is losing the rural townships like McDavitt in St. Louis County, or my home township of Balsam in Itasca County, there will be trouble. If Iron Range or Duluth turnout is down in any measurable way, there will be trouble. These are the things I’ll be watching on election night.

Democrats believed 2008 was a change election. Republicans believe the same about this year’s election. They’re both right. Change is coming either way and we’re witnessing the resulting conflict. Let’s have it out. American history needed both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, even if the two really hated each other. A lot.


  1. I tend to agree with you that Oberstar will win by a few points…I’ll say 52-48. The one thing that struck me about the Survey USA poll was that Oberstar was leading among seniors and Cravaack was leading among younger voters. If it hadn’t mentioned that fact, I’d say Cravaack would win by a similar margin. But our generation doesn’t vote like seniors do. I hope I’m wrong and Chip is able to pull it out, but if I had to put money down I’d still bet on Oberstar.

  2. Automated polls by SUSA have been shown to lean GOP by 4 points.

  3. Todd, I caught that same trend and it does give me pause as well…turnout will be key. But I think Chips momentum carries the day. Great read and thanks for putting the election in perspective Aaron.

  4. My bet (and hope) is on Oberstar. We in Bemidji owe him big time for his support for transportation projects in N.MN: moving wood to the mills, street and utility reconstruction, and especially for the improvements to our airport, which is the 4th busiest in the state (behind MSP, Rochester and Duluth for number of enplanements).

    Unfortunately, when voters are angry they don’t necessarily vote in their own best interests–or even know/care what their best interests are.

  5. One thing which is very different this year, is that District 8 ads are being played heavily on the Twin Cities TV stations. It began with the Cravaack “With all due respect” ad. The Oberstar campaign quickly responded with its “Like Malaysia” ad.

    One long time TV political reporter even commented that he couldn’t ever recall having seen an Oberstar ad running on Twin City stations. Many in the Twin Cities weren’t even aware that District 8 wasn’t strictly a “Northern Minnesota” District.

    One of the things I dislike about the Cravaack ad, is that after saying that he’s running “with all due respect,” he looks directly into the camera and lies to us. Nobody voted to “nationalize” health care. Not even close.

    One wonders how we expect our children to learn proper respect, adequate socialization skills, and grow to be educated young adults. What are we teaching them when we, as parents and adults, routinely allow politicians of all stripes (and/or their supporters) to lie in repetitious ads; when we accept shouting at public forums as a substitute for reasoned debate; and, we routinely accept one person’s opinion as fact (especially when presented on our favored “news” source)?

    We, our children, and our nation, deserve better.

  6. Anonymous…Hopefully you’ll help in getting liers of all political stripes out..

    Short list of Obama Lies:

    “The health care bill will not increase the deficit by one dime.”

    “Under my plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”

    “We have run out of places in the US to drill for oil.”

    “Now suddenly if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you can be harassed, that’s something that could potentially happen.”

    “The Health Care Package will pay for itself”

    “We shouldn’t Mandate the purchase of health care”

    “I am immediately instituting PayGo “Pay as you go”

    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    “Health Care deals will be covered on C-span”

    “Recovery Act will save or create jobs”

    “Unemployment rate will be 8.5% without stimulus.”

    “There are no Earmarks in the $787 Billion Stimulus”

    “We have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages.”

    “I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage.”

    “Guantanamo bay to be closed within a year”

    “I didn’t know Jeremiah Wright was Radical”

    “I will have the most transparent administration in History”

    “I have visited all 57 states.”

    “I’ll get rid of earmarks”

    “When a bill lands on my Desk, The American people will have 5 days to review it before I sign it.”

    “My father served in World War II.”

    “Seniors Making less than 50,000 will not have to pay taxes”

  7. Liars, not liers. Listen, this is a list of talking points, some of which are misstatements taken out of context and some of which are merely your political opinion. I keep a public discussion going to allow conversation about things from a Minnesota/Range/rural life perspective. I respectfully ask that you keep the generic talking points — R or D — over at the howler blogs like Kos or Red State. I don’t have the time or interest to rebut 17 things you found on the internet, nor do I think you’re convincing anyone of anything with that approach.

  8. Ok…but when “talking points”, “misstatements” (journalist lingo for lie), & “political opinion” are the truth, what do you expect bloggers on your sofistedkated site do? Lie or stay silent?

  9. But they aren’t true. Some have argumentative merit as political discussions. Some are literally true but presented in a false light, using the lack of context to create a lie. Your lie. I don’t know if your goal is to get me to go looking around for citations to refute each one, thus distracting me from my job, children and life. Is that it?

    For instance, President Obama did misspeak (accidentally, in the act of giving a stump speech he’d repeated a thousand times) in saying his father (he meant his uncle) fought in WWII. He was tired and misspoke. And we know this because he WROTE A BESTSELLING BOOK 20 years earlier called “Dreams from my Father” in which he explored his disappointment with his Kenyan father who did not serve in WWII. And on and on. He hasn’t violated his oath, except in your mind. Some of these others are just warmed over seconds from conservative blogs and talk radio.

    Are you waiting for undecided voters to stroll by my tiny little corner of the internet, and convince them with your e-mail forward pasted into the comments? Is that your game? In any event, it’s a game. And you can keep playing, I guess. But it’s really stupid. What you’re doing is really stupid and not worth your time. I think I give conservatives a VERY fair shake around here for a person active in the Democratic Party and all I ask is that people try to elevate the debate. I really don’t want to delete your comments, but I will if this continues. Not because of politics, but because you annoy me. And you’re probably the same person who’s been doing this for years, right? Am I right? Dude, what’s the deal? Can we talk? Send me an e-mail and let’s reach an understanding.

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