MN-8 DFLers on Almanac portend delicate chess match

Last Friday night the DFL candidates seeking to run against U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8) appeared on TPT’s Almanac, the vaunted statewide public TV news magazine show.

View the Almanac segment featuring MN-8 DFL candidates.

The interview by hosts Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola began with a heavy focus on last week’s somewhat unsurprising announcement that former State Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud would eschew the DFL party endorsement to run directly in the primary next August. Former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby has announced he’ll abide by the endorsement process and is probably a front runner for that endorsement. Former Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson continued to say he is undecided about the endorsement, reserving the right to run in a primary.

I don’t think this was a great interview for any of the candidates. Clark continues to justify her decision to run in a different district than she did just two years ago in a way that seems highly managed. Sincere, perhaps, but hard for people to understand. Nolan, who’s normally more engaging, seemed off a beat in his responses. Anderson didn’t get much time, and while he’s a very polished speaker he sometimes comes across as too polished. No one harmed themselves too badly, but when the interview focuses almost entirely on process there isn’t much for regular people to like.

In a three-way primary, Clark should be viewed as competitive, if only because of her experience and ability to raise a lot of money. She has far out-raised her DFL rivals and is largely keeping pace with Cravaack. She will always struggle with the “packsacker” label by some but might be able to overcome that if it’s a three-way race. Nolan remains a front runner for the endorsement and would be highly competitive with Clark in a two way race. That’s why Anderson, despite his strong showing on his native Range and hometown of Duluth, has the hardest decision to make right now.

Anderson’s fundraising has been anemic, though he’s built up pretty strong campaign narrative. If he abides by the endorsement he has an outside chance of darting past Nolan and getting that favorable one-on-one with Clark in the primary. That’s a big gamble. By the same token, if he goes to the primary he’s got to outgun the party’s endorsed candidate (probably Nolan in that case) and a well-financed alternative. He’d need a lot more money to do this with any chance of success. 

Anderson and Nolan have always seemed to get along well, and have teamed up strategically against Clark (visible even here in this Almanac interview). I would argue that the two of them should compete for the endorsement and create a one-on-one in the primary, avoiding a plurality winner for the nomination which is what would happen in a three-way primary. Anderson might not want that advice because he holds the valuable claim that he has the most support in Duluth and on the Range (not proven, but certainly plausible). I’m not sure what he can do with that, however, unless he has more money or the endorsement.

The general election against Cravaack will be competitive to varying degrees with any of these DFLers, unless they scorch each other too badly in this process. All of this is a good argument to move up the primary so that the valuable summer months can be spent framing the general election, though that helps nothing at this time.

I conducted deeper interviews with Nolan, Anderson and Clark here at the blog, largely focused on — wait for it — issues (co-sponsored by KAXE-Northern Community Radio), and will continue my interview series with Rep. Cravaack at some point this spring.


  1. My wife and I watched that show and our impressions were a bit different. Neither of us thought Clark did well, my wife thought she came across as a bit crude. We both thought Nolan handled himself well. I hadn’t seen as much of Anderson and excepting the question of whether he’d honor the endorsement I thought he did relatively well.

    Anderson would be wise to honor the endorsement. If he gets it then no problem. If he doesn’t get it he’s still quite young and gets credit for not being a party wrecker. It would help Nolan. If Cravaack wins Anderson gets another shot in two years with more name recognition and respect. If Nolan wins he won’t be in Congress that long at his age. The one bad scenario for Anderson is Clark gets in as she could potentially hold the seat for a long time. Best way to minimize that is honor the endorsement.

  2. Aaron –

    Some time I would love to see you write a column on whether the party endorsement has much meaning any more.

    I am reminded that the last time the DFL endorsed a successful candidate for Governor was Wendell Anderson in 1972 and 1976. The only other endorsed candidate to win in the last 50 years was Karl Rolvaag, who won in a recount against Elmer Anderson in 1962.

    Jim Oberstar wasn’t endorsed in 1974 when he ran for Congress either. He beat the DFL endorsed candidate, Tony Perpich, in the primary.

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