Oberstar, Cravaack face off on the edge of the western Mesabi Range

Tonight’s second MN-08 debate between Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) and challenger Chip Cravaack (R) in Grand Rapids was a marked improvement over the first. A civil and well-run affair, this debate allowed Oberstar and Cravaack to detail — albeit in shorthand — the core principles of their campaigns. Moderators Patrick Marx, a journalist formerly of the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune, and Bill Hanna, editor of the Mesabi Daily News, led the candidates through a series of prepared and audience-generated questions. A capacity crowd of about 200 filled Davies Hall at Itasca Community College, along with another 300-400 online viewers at The Uptake. Hundreds more will watch and hear the debate in the next few days.

I’d say that hardcore supporters of either candidate got something they wanted out of this debate. Cravaack appeared energetic and well-spoken. He detailed what I’d describe as a boilerplate list of conservative positions on health care reform (favoring repeal and “starting over”), stimulus spending (against), and government spending generally (reduced). He started the night the more personable of the two candidates.

Oberstar was able to display his encyclopedic knowledge of northern Minnesota issues, history and statistics on several occasions. After a what I’d call a choppy start he was dishing out strong, passionate arguments for his votes on health care and the stimulus. He had the better closing statement by far, hearkening his Iron Range roots and his mantra of fairness for hard working people of the 8th District.

It was interesting to see the two discuss abortion policy. Both are pro-life, but Cravaack won the endorsement of the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life when the group labeled health care reform as a pro-abortion law. Oberstar denied that the bill would do anything to fund abortions and that leaving children and the poor without health care was not a pro-life position. The degree to which these exchanges win pro-life votes really depends on the set of facts one chooses to prioritize.

I encourage you to check out the archived debate at The Uptake, which did a fantastic job covering the event, or in the replay on MPR’s Midday on Monday, Oct. 25.

I have to admit that there were about 40 nonconsecutive minutes where I had to step away from the debate to read stories to my kids. One of the stories was “The Enormous Crocodile,” a tale in which a large croc emerges from the swamp for the purpose of eating children. A series of attempts to gobble up children are foiled by jungle creatures appalled at the enormous crocodile’s greed and horribleness. At the end of the story the elephant throws the crocodile into the sun, where his is sizzled up “like a sausage.”

Something about this story synced up real nice with the debate, even if it distracted me from several important answers. Kind of like listening to “The Wall” while watching the Wizard of Oz.” (Judy Garland is from Grand Rapids). I think truly undecided voters got a good view of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates tonight. Partisans got some of what they wanted. I think the drama now begins to subside and we settle into what will still likely be an Oberstar victory, barring more bleeding from the DFL side.

It’d be a real good time to drop a new poll on this race, though. A real good time.


  1. Ranger far from home says

    Although I no longer live in the district, when I did I always appreciated how Oberstar had a consistent concern for life. Whether it was abortion legislation or other issues I felt I could count on Oberstar to protect those persons in our society who are most vulnerable.

    This has not changed. I believe Oberstar fights for the common good and has earned the trust and respect of Rangers through years of solid service. I can only hope the 8th district will choose to re-elect him.

  2. I agree with your analysis. Cravaack gave a much better opening statement, but it was pretty much a draw from there. Oberstar looked much more prepared and relaxed last night than he did on Tuesday. I don’t think any of the 500 or so total people (at the debate, plus online) who saw the debate were going to be swayed one way or the other by what was said. Oberstar didn’t say anything stupid that would get onto YouTube and other media outlets like he did earlier in the week.

    I got a hit piece in the mail from a local union on Cravaack. My guess is their polling is starting to show that Chip is very close. Normally, you don’t do that unless you are close or behind. I’ll still fully believe that Chip is within 10 points of Oberstar when it shows up on election night, but one never knows.

  3. What is the population split between the “Northland” and the exurban regions just North of the metro in the 8th district? I expect as the metro sprawls further Duluth and the Range will lose influence?

    This race seems more a urban vs. rural race rather than a Democrat vs. Republican race to me. Living in outstate myself I tend to factor in where a candidate is originally from, and where they currently live as much as political party anymore. The split between urban and rural has been exacerbated by Pawlenty’s policies especially.

  4. The population of the 8th continues to track toward the southern, Twin Cities “exurb” counties. Duluth is holding steady and the Range towns are dropping. The townships around Duluth and the Range are growing, but mostly from more conservative retirees. I’d say we’re approaching parity in power between the north and south, the difference this year being that the north is 70-20 DFL and the south is only 60-40 GOP. In two years, the district will likely be a tossup after the new lines are drawn.

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