Nolan wins Range contests, poised for DFL endorsement

Another weekend of county political conventions in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District has put an exclamation point on a political reality. Former Congressman Rick Nolan of Crosby will win the DFL endorsement on May 5.

Perhaps portending the 21 consecutive wins by Nolan in local contests, the other DFL candidates Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson had previously announced they would run in the primary without the endorsement. And while the two are still speaking to DFL delegates, they are not working these conventions as hard as Nolan’s team.

Tarryl Clark is certainly prepared for a primary run. While Nolan was racking up delegates, she’s been racking up money: a whopping $321,000 in the first quarter. Normally that’d be enough money to clear the deck, if it weren’t for her anemic performance in early grassroots contests like the straw poll and county conventions. She’s barely winning any delegates at all. Clark is betting that her supporters (along with those she picks up with a TV blitz) will turn out in the primary.

As previously discussed, Anderson is running in the primary with hopes of forming a specific coalition to win a three-way contest. He’s situated himself as the pro-mining, pro-natural resource development candidate in the DFL field, something that’s already won him several endorsements from Range DFL officials. That has not, however, translated to delegate success, which is why he, too, pulled back from the endorsement fight and is focusing on the primary.

I was a delegate at the Itasca County DFL convention on Saturday. Some in our county insist upon the walking subcaucus system for delegate election, which is always confusing to newcomers and veterans alike. I’ve led subcaucuses at three such conventions now and it has always turned out in unexpected ways. I ended up proposing an Itasca Uncommitted delegation, which was dominated by Nolan supporters. All of our state and congressional delegates ended up being Nolan supporters or Nolan leaners. (Note: I am not endorsing in this race, nor will I be a delegate at future contests).

I estimate that seven of Itasca’s 11 delegates will be Nolan supporters, if not more. This is significant only because that seems to be Nolan’s rough margin of victory everywhere he goes. Nolan carried the “old” Minnesota SD5 convention (The Range) in Hibbing as well, after his string of surprise wins over Anderson in Duluth and Ely in previous weeks.

The questions of the race heading into the convention and summer primary campaign are thus:

  • Can Nolan translate his grassroots success into the 40 percent he needs for a clean primary win?
  • Can Clark translate her big fundraising into real support in an electoral contest against an endorsed candidate?
  • Can Anderson win big enough on the Range and in Duluth to overcome the opposition, picking up at least some support elsewhere?
  • Can the winner then turn around and run well against Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8) in the sprint from August to November?

In a way, the primary prevents Cravaack and allies from training their attack on one DFLer. But they will be able to conserve their resources for a fight once the primary is over. The DFL nominee could emerge a tested, formidable juggernaut or else become hobbled and unlikeable. Most of the big political watchers rate this a pure toss-up. I’d say until the strength of the Eight District DFL organization is better understood that’s a fair rating.

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