MN-8: The campaigns that never were

My series on the early status of the MN-8 congressional race in northern Minnesota continues. On Monday and Tuesday I’ll be posting updates on DFLers seeking to unseat incumbent freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack.

This post focuses, surprisingly, on all the top tier DFLers who opted not to run. Normally you’d just ignore these people. Most people don’t run for Congress. This is actually the normal thing to do. Nevertheless, we can learn important lessons about the state of this district (and politics generally) from these individuals’ decision to stay out of the race.

Back when former Rep. Jim Oberstar (DFL-MN8) was invincible I joined many in speculating about the future of the district after his theoretical retirement. The names I mentioned would seem familiar to Minnesota politicos. Among the DFLers were House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, Duluth Mayor Don Ness, Iron Range firebrand State Rep. Tom Rukavina and labor favorite State Sen. Tom Bakk. Privately, I was certain that the next DFL candidate would be one of these guys.

How many do you think are running in 2012? None. Zip. They all took a pass. Sertich lost his shot at Speaker in the 2010 election and became Gov. Dayton’s IRRRB commissioner. Ness remains the popular mayor of Duluth, opting to focus on running for re-election and raising a growing young family in his hometown. Rukavina chose to stay in the legislature. Bakk became Senate Minority Leader and is taking the better odds that he has a chance at Majority Leader.

I can’t stress enough how Range and Duluth DFLers had their hopes pinned on this group. Other parts of the 8th were hoping to run their own people, perhaps State Sen. Tony Lourey, who also isn’t running, or former State Rep. Tim Faust or Rep. John Ward, still rumored. But these were always the outside candidates. Sertich, Ness, Rukavina and Bakk were the front pack.

Now, these people all have their own reasons for not running, which I leave to them to explain, but these are the factors that united to push all of them out of the running:

  • Running for Congress in 2012 means raising at least a couple million dollars, a staggering figure for candidates used to running campaigns for the cost of nice boat.
  • Running for Congress in 2012 means joining a political culture that punishes you for mixing too much with decision makers in D.C., while forcing you to spend most of your time in a car, plane or rented hall with people who already support you.
  • Running for Congress in 2012 means placing great strain on your family. It’s actually so pronounced that the only people who seem to be able to do it are those who are single, who have older children, or those whose whole family campaigns together like the von Trapp family.

All of these scenarios presume that you are going to have to something strange, maybe even unholy, for an undetermined amount of time. All of these scenarios attracted people who are, by necessity, warped in some way. I mean this with all due respect.

Sertich and Ness, in their 30s, want to focus on family. We may hear from them in the context of higher office in the future, but not now. Rukavina and Bakk know too well that a run for Congress is daunting and might not be the best thing for two guys just coming off unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns. Their legacy will be attached to the Iron Range legislative record of the post-Perpich era; Rukavina in one corner, Bakk the other.

Instead, we have two announced MN-8 DFL candidates, Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson, who no one expected to be frontrunners but are by default. We have Rick Nolan and others considering a run, all of whom most people haven’t heard of. All to run against Cravaack, a Republican incumbent no one expected to win, a guy voters are still just getting to know.

Join me Monday for a review of the Democrats seeking to unseat Cravaack. Read Part 1: Redistricting Scenarios. Part 2: Chip Cravaack. 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.”


  1. Only the youngsters haven’t heard of Nolan. And lets face it this is a relatively old district.

  2. I think he’s much better known down in your neighborhood. Up here and probably in Duluth he was way off the radar until now.

    And I’m not that young, but I was still born during his last House term. There is a bit of a gap there. 🙂

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