Forum, straw poll in Hibbing could shape MN-8 race

This past Saturday in Hibbing, Minn., as I was hosting a little radio show on one side of Highway 169 the 8th District DFL was holding a central committee meeting, fundraising dinner and the first scheduled Congressional Candidate forum across the street at the Park Hotel.

Four candidates are vying for the DFL nomination to run against Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8) in this one-time labor bastion located in northeastern Minnesota. Those candidates are Jeff Anderson, Tarryl Clark, Daniel Fanning and Rick Nolan. Barring a surprise late entry from a well-funded or well-known figure, this is your DFL field as we approach this winter’s precinct caucuses and party endorsement process. It’s entirely possible that all four will forge into a contested primary next summer.

This is my understanding of what went on at the meeting:

  • About 200 people attended the dinner (not a bad crowd for an event this far north). 
  • Tarryl Clark did not attend, having opposed the scheduled straw poll among central committee members. 
  • Anderson, Fanning and Nolan were well received in the forum, the content of which I am not aware. 
  • Nolan won the straw poll, a fact he’s since touted in campaign press releases. That said, the straw poll appears to have been limited to central committee members, so he won 21-8 over Fanning — with several undecided.

Indeed, the Saturday event was supposed to clarify a few things about this unusual, hard-to-pin DFL race for the party’s best legitimate pickup opportunity in 2012. It did … a little … sort of. Here are some stray observations:

  • Rick Nolan probably demonstrated that he is doing the best at securing the support and confidence of party regulars. Others have support within the party, but Nolan seems to be setting up as a landmark in the field. I’d call him a frontrunner for the endorsement.
  • Fanning, who just got into the race last week, over-performed a tiny bit, probably earning himself some attention and a chance to catch up to the pack. He still needs a boost.
  • Anderson can’t be happy with the straw poll result, but he’s already touting some kind of union endorsement this morning at 11, the first full union endorsement.
  • Nolan had announced individual endorsements from union figures on Friday, some activists and Rep. Kerry Gauthier of Duluth, a former CD8 chair.
  • Anderson and Fanning both announced various mayoral endorsements from around the district last week.
  • Clark did not announce any endorsements, but was the only candidate in the field to announce fundraising numbers, $228,000 in the third quarter. Her press release headline: “Clark amasses war chest to take on Cravaack.” No warm and fuzzies there.

And that’s what you need to know about the shape of this race. Clark will run hard for the primary with her “war chest.” Anderson will take a stab at the endorsement, but seems to be positioning a primary run based on a wider spread of DFL coalitions. (Many of his mayoral endorsements came from centrist or even conservative-leaning DFLers). Fanning is probably third in line for the endorsement fight, and Saturday announced he’d proceed to a primary. Nolan is the only candidate who’s said he’d “abide” by the endorsement and when you’re the only major candidate who does that you often have an elevated chance of winning the endorsement.

The net result could be an endorsed Nolan running in a primary against a well-funded Clark and potential insurgencies from Anderson or Fanning. The outcome of such an event is not clear at this time.

I think most DFLers would rather start running their candidate for Congress against Cravaack a lot sooner than August. I doubt most DFLers will agree on a candidate until after the primary. Thus, as before, we shall see in due time.

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