MN-8: Cravaack readies defense against DFL challenge

My series on the upcoming 2012 race in MN-8 continues with a look at the candidates. The list includes Republican incumbent Chip Cravaack and several northern Minnesota Democrats mulling a challenge. I plan to conduct interviews with all the candidates at an appropriate time in the future. Most candidates, including Cravaack, have already committed.

The reason we’re all here today, paying close, frantic attention to this once-sleepy DFL stronghold in northern Minnesota is because of one man: Chip Cravaack. This freshman member of Congress, the first Republican elected here since 1944, still fosters an air of excitement after his shock upset of Jim Oberstar in 2010. Residing in Lindstrom in the Eighth District’s far southern environs, Cravaack ran up huge numbers in the district’s lower half while softening Oberstar’s support up north. Cravaack, like Oberstar, landed on the transportation committee where he’s specialized in aviation.

Cravaack has broken with party occasionally on labor issues, but mostly has joined with the agenda of the GOP majority including repeal of President Obama’s health care reform, spending cuts and reforms of Medicare including privatization. Largely, he’s stuck to campaign promises. After an initial delay, he opened a district office in Duluth and did more outreach into the northern part of the district. He held a town hall on the Range, which didn’t go particularly well but won him political points for trying.

That said, Cravaack so far has posted relatively weak fundraising numbers (though outside groups appear poised to make up the difference) and a more rigidly conservative voting record than some swing voters expected. This begs the question, did people elect Cravaack in 2010 or simply “unelect” Oberstar when an attractive, unknown alternative appeared?

Many of my DFL friends in the district have a contemptuous view of Cravaack’s election that will do no good in the campaign. Fact is, while many were simply tired of Oberstar and voted for an alternative, Cravaack is the kind of politician who can look people straight in the eye. You can disagree with him, argue against his ideology and motivations if you like. But he’s got skills and his campaign scheduler campaign staff more or less stayed on as his political staff. He’s set to go.

Minnesota’s 8th District is more conservative than it used to be, mostly because its geographic growth has absorbed more conservative areas around its borders. It is also older and more reflexively cautions about progressive issues once championed here. It will probably become a shade more conservative as its demographic patterns settle in. But at its core the district retains a very large DFL bastion in Duluth and a graying, socially conservative, but still Democratic Iron Range region. Any scenario that has Cravaack winning in a higher-turnout presidential year, particularly in a year involving a debate on Medicare funding, has him making some impressive inroads on the Iron Range or in Duluth. I’m not seeing this on the ground yet.

Redistricting plays a big part in this analysis. If Cravaack is drawn into a safer Republican district he’s almost certainly heading back to Congress. I still argue he gets a district similar to his current one and a very competitive race. Make no mistake, however. Democrats shouldn’t discount Cravaack’s chances. He’s got the championship belt and he and the GOP won’t give it up freely. His vulnerabilities are notable, but so are his political skills and the motivation of a Republican party trying to keep its 2010 gains.

Join me later today for a look at the revealing list of candidates not running for MN-8. Read Part 1: Redistricting Scenarios. Follow MinnesotaBrown on Facebook or Twitter for news. My book, a humorous primer on life north of the metro, is “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

UPDATE: Corrected to show that Cravaack’s campaign spokespersonscheduler was the only staffer to stay on from the campaign. It is a key position, though, which is what I was getting at.


  1. One correction. Only one member of the campaign staff stayed on.

  2. Correction made. Apologies for that. What I meant and what I typed were two different things. My larger point is that Cravaack appears to have a team in place moving forward, and will no doubt have some help from the party.

  3. Thank for the correction. To clarify, his scheduler/travel companion stayed on as Deputy CoS, but everyone else has moved on.

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