Wide open DFL contest in MN-8, true 2012 tossup against Cravaack

In the months before Barack Obama won the presidency many wondered if he would consider then U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN8) for Secretary of Transportation. Oberstar wasn’t interested. After all, he had much more influence over transportation issues as chair of the House transportation and infrastructure committee, just as his fellow Iron Ranger and mentor Rep. John Blatnik had before him. But, for a moment, northern Minnesota politicos, myself included, pondered the post-Oberstar world in local DFL politics. At the time I wrote a post indicating that the DFL bench, long frozen in place due to Oberstar’s electoral longevity, was “deep.”

Just two years later, in 2010, Oberstar lost his seat in Congress to the conservative upstart Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8), the first GOP win in this district since 1944. The deep DFL bench I talked about isn’t as deep as once thought. Most of the obvious candidates have removed themselves from consideration because of age, family considerations or the increasing unpleasantness of Congress itself. Notable front runners like IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich and Duluth Mayor Don Ness are among those taking a pass. State Rep. Tom Rukavina and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk also deny interest.

In fact, the only candidate on my original list that’s still there today is Duluth City Council President Jeff Anderson. Below you’ll see a list of five potential candidates, some very preliminarily considering a run. These are all people who have made appearances or given speeches with the understanding that they’re thinking about it. The links lead to candidate profiles or other political coverage.

Jeff Anderson
Duluth City Councilor at large, Council President, Ely native

Daniel Fanning
8th CD representative for U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Iraqi Freedom veteran, Duluth

Tim Faust
Former State Represenative, pro-life minister from Mora

Tarryl Clark* and Ryan Winkler*

* Clark and Winkler do not reside in the current 8th District but may after the new lines are drawn this year. Clark is an experienced Congressional candidate who ran a strong but unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Michelle Bachman in MN-8. She was a well regarded State Senator in St. Cloud. Winkler is considering moving his family back to his hometown of Bemidji, which also may find itself in the new 8th district.

Clark and Winkler would be attempting a difficult political maneuver, particularly if they move after the new lines are drawn. Unlike the legislature which has more specific rules, the only legal residency requirement for Congress is that the candidate live in the state. The political reality is that candidates will need deeper connections to the district than this.

Fanning in particular has probably put out the most vibrations about a potential candidacy and has maintained a high profile in local DFL circles. However Anderson and, to a lesser extent, Faust, Winkler and Clark are also making waves. Anderson’s cross-region connections in Ely and Duluth will be huge for him. I’ve talked to most of these candidates informally and am making plans to meet with them all eventually. When the time is right I’ll share formal interviews as part of my ongoing coverage of the MN-8 conventions, primaries and 2012 general election.

Generally, however, it would be fair to say that there is no DFL front runner, nor has the field closed off to potential new candidates. Big constituencies like Labor and the Iron Range are not showing any preferences yet, nor are most 8th CD voters tuned in to the likes of this discussion. There is a lot of potential and talent in this preliminary field, but each candidate has challenges to overcome.

The reality is that Cravaack caught fire at the right time in 2010 and pulled off a huge upset. He will be a formidable opponent for northern Minnesota Democrats, but will no longer have the advantage of surprise. Cravaack’s residence at the far southern edge of the 8th District and his decision not to base an office in Duluth or anywhere north represent potential strategic disadvantages. His voting record, save a couple labor votes, has been reliably partisan. This is a pickup opportunity for the DFL if a strong candidate emerges over the next six months to a year. But let no one be fooled. Cravaack could be re-elected.

Redistricting will have an enormous impact on the structure of this race, potentially making the district more conservative or possibly even removing Cravaack from the district. With Michelle Bachmann considering a run for president and the GOP’s need for a credible challenger against Sen. Amy Klobuchar in 2012, all sorts of additionally amazing things could yet occur — one of which is an open seat in MN-8.

UPDATE: A commenter rightly pointed out that State Rep. John Ward (DFL-Brainerd) is considering a run for the DFL 8th CD nomination. I have not yet heard from him, but he’s kept that seat in a swing district for a few cycles now and is worth consideration. Also in the category of “not in the 8th, yet,” State. Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) is rumored to be considering a run. That’s another hypothetical situation scenario. If I missed others, please let me know.


  1. Cravaack told the Duluth News Tribune that he is opening an office in Duluth.

    No comment on John Ward?

  2. I hope Cravaack does. It would be crazy not to.

    I neglected to mention Ward. There are a couple others on the bubble. I’ll be sure to mention him next time. These are all folks who have been fairly overt in their motions recently.

  3. Office in Duluth or on the Range…. Really? I live in the Chisholm area and haven’t seen Oberstar in 15 years. I mean not once.

  4. Not a personal office but an office with staff that can work constituent issues. Oberstar had an office in Chisholm. He just didn’t visit it much.

  5. My name is Kirsten Hagen Kennedy and I am considering a run against Chip. I am a single mother raising five children. I am a junior at UMD and reside in North Branch, Minnesota

    I believe that the Iron Range deserves equal representation from an advocate, not a top earner.


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