More intrigue in the Oberstar/Cravaack race for MN-08 – UPDATED

UPDATE: This news is on hold as the paper did not endorse today as sources were told. The debate tonight thus takes on even more significance. I apologize to readers for jumping the gun.
Well, the Duluth News Tribune‘s shamefully poor management of Tuesday’s debate between Rep. Jim Oberstar and challenger Chip Cravaack now has new context. Today the DNT will endorse Cravaack, the first time its broken with Oberstar in decades.

Labor 2010 is organizing a press conference to respond at the Duluth Labor Temple (2002 London Road) at 11 a.m. this morning. Update: This event had been cancelled because the paper did not issue the endorsement today as sources were told they would. Stay tuned.

The endorsement itself is not a surprise to me. Forum Communications, the (relatively) new parent company of the DNT, usually endorses conservatives and must certainly smell opportunity in this year’s 8th CD race. Cravaack is running the strongest campaign Oberstar has faced in a long time. What bothers me is the paper’s unwillingness to own up to the sand job it performed at Tuesday’s debate. While I don’t think the debate was deliberately set up to make Oberstar look bad, the way that a crowd of Cravaack supporters were allowed to alter the entire discourse of the event through catcalls was uncalled for. There were Oberstar supporters who followed suit, but only after the tone of the event was established as a raucous debacle. The debate should have been stopped to remind the audience to let the candidates do the talking.

But what I think really happened was the moderators didn’t know what to do, and when the result was an ugly mess that provided a slight advantage to Cravaack they knew that their paper was going to endorse Cravaack later. So they downplayed the tilt and behavior of the crowd, possibly out of fear, probably not knowing what else to do.

I know the behavior of that audience doesn’t necessarily reflect Cravaack or most of his supporters. But please consider that anything resembling momentum for Cravaack here is based on his own’ campaign’s poll, which hasn’t been corroborated by an independent pollster, a debate that was marred by booing, and that debate’s sponsor newspaper then endorsing Cravaack.

I’m trying to be respectful of my friends on the other side of the aisle, but I’ve seen the message discipline among the conservative blogs on this race and am no longer willing to allow what is essentially highly effective public relations work set the narrative of the mood of the 8th District electorate. I’d hope that the winner of this race wins on popular argument alone. I am probably horribly naive, but a boy can dream.

Tonight, Oberstar and Cravaack will debate again at 7 p.m. at the Davies Hall on the campus of Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids. There were still some tickets available through the two major parties, so contact your candidate’s campaign or the college for more information. There are some pretty serious policy differences between these two candidates and those candidates should be able to share and contrast those differences in a civil, public forum.


  1. Aaron,

    With this being a liberal blog, I don’t really expect fair coverage. But come on. You were saying the other day that you weren’t at the debate in Duluth and couldn’t really hear anything while trying to listen online, but now you’re able to judge that Cravaack supporters were the ones starting all the trouble and Oberstar supporters only responded in response? First of all, the DECC auditorium wasn’t “dominated by Cravaack supporters”. It was close to 50/50 with maybe slightly more Cravaack supporters…even saying it was 60/40 would be a stretch.

    There was plenty of rude behavior on both sides. One Oberstar supporter in the back shouted a racial epithet at Cravaack calling him “white boy” while he was trying to speak. Now this doesn’t and shouldn’t reflect poorly on Oberstar, but had the role been reversed we’d hear story after story about how Cravaack supporters are a bunch of racist teabaggers.

    If you want to judge the behavior of the candidates themselves, I’d say Cravaack was a lot more well behaved than Oberstar. Chip answered every question without getting flustered, even though Oberstar supporters were “cat calling” at him as well. Oberstar was getting “cat called”, but he was getting angry at the audience and let it show. He was visibly upset several times when questioned about votes like cap and trade and his new clean water act. These are bills that one can very reasonably conclude are quite bad for Northern Minnesota and Jim didn’t like the fact that he was being called out for it. He looked like an arrogant, angry old man who thinks he’s entitled to a congressional seat.

    I only follow a couple of blogs, but I had heard very little about this race in the blogosphere until the debate the other day. I’m not quite sure why you think that the blogs are part of an orchestrated PR effort.

  2. Well stated Todd…thanks

  3. Todd, you know I respect your opinions and contributions to the comments here at the blog. You also probably know that while I have my opinions, many though not all of them liberal, I try to avoid being pigeon-holed as a liberal blog. Yes, as stated, I didn’t hear much of what the candidates said because of the audio problems. That’s why I didn’t comment on the candidates said or who “won” in the traditional debate sense. The mic did pick up the crowd and I heard them booing before Oberstar could even finish a sentence. Oberstar supporters joined in the fray, which is equally bad, but their poor decision to do so doesn’t excuse the several dozen people who came there to shout down Jim Oberstar.

    Reports from a the half a dozen people who were there indicated that the Cravaack people outnumbered the Oberstar people. Major GOP writers were crowing about this on Twitter, etc. The Cravaack people also held the seats closest to stage. That is visible in the photographs on the DNT site. This doesn’t mean I excuse the jerks back in the oberstar section.

    I’m not trying to be partisan, even if you don’t believe me. In fact, I’d love if a civil debate could be held on Oberstar and Cravaack’s sincerely held differences.

  4. I don’t disagree anything you said in your last post. It is true that a Cravaack supporter shouted down Oberstar on about his fourth or fifth word and it’s also true that Cravaack supporters had most of the seats down close to the stage. A guy sitting behind me who I assume was on Oberstar’s staff was complaining that people were allowed in at 6:45 instead of 7:00 like they had been told. Evidently this allowed Chip’s supporters to get all of the seats down by the stage since Oberstar’s supporters didn’t show up until 7:00. I can’t vouch whether this is true or not, as I didn’t show up until about 7:55.

    I didn’t mean that you are a partisan hack. I just meant that you’re speaking from a liberal point of view. If I thought you were just a liberal hack who didn’t offer anything other than hit pieces, I wouldn’t bother reading your blog…much less spend time commenting on articles.

    I think part of the reason some of the bloggers there may have thought there were far more Cravaack supporters there was because a significant number of them were wearing blue shirts with his name on it. I saw a few of Oberstar’s supporters wearing his campaign shirts, but not nearly as many. The applause for Oberstar from his supporters was only slightly quieter than the applause for Cravaack.

    As I’m typing this, I just got an e-mail from Chip’s campaign saying that they’ve raised $60,000 since Wednesday and are hoping for $80,000 by tomorrow. Assuming that fundraising pace doesn’t slow down too badly over the next four days or so, he should have plenty of money for TV ads in the final week.

  5. Well, then that’s a fair point. The crowd might have been only slightly leaning toward Cravaack. The real difference was where his supporters were sitting in relation to the Oberstar supporters and the general lack of control over the entire crowd. All fair points. I hope for a better exchange tonight.

    Yes, the real question over the last two weeks is where is the outside money, the ad wars. There was a flare up after the poll release and now it’s been quiet again. I’m sure it will pick up.

    My kingdom for a candidate who runs on shoring up social security and medicare through difficult reforms and reducing our pentagon spending and overseas occupations. We get a little bit of each from Oberstar and Cravaack. I’d need the full package to jump ship.

  6. It sounds like there will be a live internet stream of the debate tonight. I would consider heading up to Grand Rapids, but have to leave for the Twin Cities early tomorrow morning.

    My kingdom for a candidate is somebody who supports term limits. No more than six two-year house terms and two six-year senate terms in a lifetime. My number one issue is gov’t spending and entitlement reduction and a huge portion of that would disappear if career politicians disappeared. Big spenders in both parties (Leahy, Stevens, Byrd, etc) set everything up so they permanently control the purse strings. After a while, they have it all set up where they have far too much power and will do anything to maintain that power. I also wish at least two or three major gov’t agencies (Education, Energy, Homeland Security) would be eliminated.

    I totally agree with you on social security and medicare reform and at least somewhat agree with you on overseas occupations. I think #1 is all but politically impossible though, as our generation doesn’t care enough to vote. And let’s just say that our parents and grandparents generation vote in large numbers and will continue to.

  7. The fact that we are having a serious conversation about Jim Oberstar being in trouble should show every DFL’er how badly November 2nd is going to go for them.

  8. Yesterday, a high school student I know said to me,

    “Did you see all those people arguing at that debate in Duluth? It seems to me the people who are complaining the loudest are the ones who really have the absolute least to complain about. Most of them have plenty of food and nice houses and lots of stuff. Only in America would rich people be acting like the world’s all against them and protesting. It seems sort of messed up, you know? What’s with them? Maybe they should stop yelling and realize that we live in the best country on earth. If they don’t like it they should go somewhere else.”

    Interesting view from a 17 year old – damn unpatriotic complaining conservatives! : )

  9. I wasn’t at either of these forums, but I will say that at the Grand Rapids forum in 2006, Rod Grams was shouted down by Oberstar’s supporters (who had all the good seats by the stage) as bad, if not worse, than what I’ve been told happened in Duluth.

    I listened into some of the clips from the DECC forum Tuesday morning and I agree, it was about as bad as the treatment that Rod Grams received in 2006.

    I guess the old maxim, “What goes around, comes around,” comes into play here. You may not like the treatment that Oberstar received this time around, but it was no different than the tone that existed four years ago to the Congressman’s opponent.

    As for Friday night, I surely hope for the good of the 8th district, that the forum had more civility to it on BOTH sides.

  10. As for the comment from the high school student:

    The last time I checked, guys like Fidel Castro and Mummar Quadaffi were in power about as long as Jim Oberstar. If I lived in Cuba or Libya under their regimes, I’d be complaining too.

    The fact is, people get fed up when one person is in a position of power for most, if not all, of their lifetimes. Conservatives are fed up with the fact that Oberstar has been in office for nearly four decades and things in the 8th CD have gotten worse – not better. I’m not comparing Oberstar to Quadaffi and Castro on ideology but in terms of length of service. 36 years is waaaayyyy too long and people are rebelling. Jim should have retired years ago.

    Right now the biggest 8th District export is our children. They graduate from high school and either move to the Twin Cities or elsewhere for college, or go to UMD or St. Scholastica and then move somewhere else to get a good job. Where has the job growth been? Certainly not in the 8th District. That’s what people are mad about. They will stop yelling when the economy rebounds and real jobs are created.

    The loggers were put out of work when Ainsworth shut their doors in 2006 because of a lagging economy and four years later the situation hasn’t improved. All the while, Jim Oberstar has continued serving in Congress while things have gotten worse. Is it any wonder why they are angry? If I were out of work for 4 years, I’d be angry too!

  11. I am 40. Yes, many of my high school friends have made a choice to live in the Twin Cities area, but it is a choice – not something they absolutely had to do. It didn’t involve any politician and can’t be credited to or blamed on politics or congress. It was a choice that each of them made individually. (And I’m not thinking they were wrong in any way for choosing that way of life.)

    However, some of us do stay here. Believe it or not, some of us even go to college and come back here.

    If people value this region enough and have the guts to stay here, it can be done. Maybe, if you want a certain type of job, you have to make it for yourself instead of sitting around waiting for others to make it for you. It is doable if you want it bad enough though.

    Isn’t that the American way that all the people seem to be yelling about? Taking responsibility for your own life and destiny instead of blaming someone else?

    I wouldn’t leave here for anything. It is the best place in the best country to be.

    And for once in my life, and this is actually kind of cool, being “not conservative” is making me feel sort of American and patriotic compared to others. You have the right to criticize this great country and area, and I have the right to disagree with your opinions.

  12. I’m just a few months shy of the big 4-0 so I’m not too much younger than you.

    I agree with you about people making those choices on whether or not they want to stay or leave the Iron Range. Some people, like yourself, freely make that choice and even create opportunities to be successful up here.

    On the other hand, how many people cannot make that same choice because of lack of work or desire to be in a certain occupation? A friend of mine in Hibbing is trying her darnedest to create the opportunity to do what she does best – tune pianos. Unfortunately, the economic climate in Hibbing and throughout the Range is not in the best of shape for her to actually have success there. Thankfully her husband has a good job which enables them to pay the bills, but if he didn’t – they too would be forced to move out of the area in order to create their own opportunities as entrepreneurs or find better jobs working for others.

    What this area needs is a good influx of jobs. Duluth used to be a thriving port but today is only a shadow of it’s former self.

    The loggers used to make decent wages in Itasca, Koochiching and St. Louis counties, but with increased logging restrictions, a depression in the housing market nationally that reduces the demand for products made from OSB, several prominent logging families have had to sell off their equipment at rock-bottom prices in order to pay their mortgage, while they go in search of stable employment. I know a few of them who sold off their entire company, sold their houses at a loss and moved to Wisconsin – all because they can no longer afford to do what they’ve done their entire lives – for four generations.

    Unfortunately, Jim Oberstar has refused to accept any responsibility for his mess, despite being in Congress for 36 years. It’s a disappointment.

  13. I meant to say “this” mess – Oberstar has some culpability in the matter but I’m not going to put the whole thing at his feet. My apologies for the typo.

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