Money, Medicare & the Iron Range: MN-8 lurches to climax

The third MN-8 debate is on for noon today, but here’s another view of the race that’s been collecting in the oak barrel I keep outside my back door. There’s more in there, of course. Always more.


Surprisingly, Rick Nolan out-raised Chip Cravaack in the final quarter before the election. Cravaack enters these final weeks with much more cash on hand, but the turnaround by Nolan shows that the campaign did have some fundraising game in the end.

As this MPR story by Catharine Richert shows, however, the campaign spending in this race is paltry compared with the party and outside group spending. Cravaack-aligned groups are crushing Nolan-aligned groups on this front. This is an example of what Citizens United has wrought. Fundamentally, those most emboldened by large, anonymous political spending are groups funded by conservative, wealthy individuals. This is good news if that’s your side, bad news if it isn’t.

In practice, however, when you watch local TV in Duluth the result is a series of consecutive ads that show Nolan telling people Cravaack will kill Medicare, Cravaack telling people Nolan will kill Medicare with Obamacare and then two guys from WI-7 across the bridge saying the same things. My own perspective is that all this has a numbing effect.

Cravaack has stepped up his attacks on Nolan, moving into the details of Nolan’s resume. Specifically, Cravaack has spent a lot of time and ink lately attacking Nolan’s tenure as President of Gov. Rudy Perpich’s World Trade Center during the 1980s, along with his other business dealings. This is, incidentally, the same line of attack that Tarryl Clark tried during the primary. She said then that her attacks were light compared to what the Republicans would do, and, you know what? They seem about the same. They seem like the kind of thing you put out when you’re down 1-5 points heading into an election. But Cravaack has much more money and is being very aggressive during debates on this issue.

Nolan has spent a lot of time trying to convince people that Cravaack and aligned-groups’ attacks on him over “killing Medicare” are bogus. Of course, those particular charges are widely regarded as bogus by reputable fact-checking sites, but the old adage is “if you’re explain,’ you ain’t gainin’.” Nolan had hoped that Cravaack’s vote for the Paul Ryan budget, which is in actually a major re-envisioning of Medicare that would reduce benefits over time, would be his major point of attack, but as I said before, both sides are saying the same thing which makes that a harder punch to land.

Iron Range:
I’ve written broadly about how Cravaack is trying to soften the DFL’s hold on the Iron Range with his policies in favor of mining in this election. Nolan later won the Steelworker’s endorsement, which helped him build a decent firewall here, but you can tell DFLers are really taking this seriously when you see Iron Range firebrand Rep. Tom Rukavina do a video like this:

Normally a web video is no big deal, but I have learned that a substantial radio ad buy featuring a similar Rukavina speech will air across northern Minnesota.

We’re also waiting to see if a major Iron Range national campaign event will be held this year. In 2004, then VP-nominee John Edwards gave a big rally for the national ticket at the Hibbing Memorial Building. In 2008, it was Hillary Clinton. Because Minnesota has, amazingly, been left off the radar screens of both the Obama and Romney campaigns, we are left wondering if the campaigns will even send surrogates to Duluth, much less the Range.

In the past three presidential cycles, both Republicans and Democrats have sent their presidential, vice-presidential or “super special surrogate” into the Duluth market during October. So far, it’s been whisper quiet on that front.

A major ticket visit would probably create some helpful enthusiasm for either Cravaack or Nolan, something I’m sure the campaigns are seeking. I would be mildly disappointed if we didn’t have the classic Iron Range DFL rally at the Memorial Building. There is such history there. Nolan, too, would surely appreciate the boost that might bring him.

The polls:
As we said last week, the polls show a tie, perhaps a slight lead for Nolan. Today’s debate and the one scheduled for Oct. 31 in Virginia, MN on the Iron Range are important. Just as important, however, might be the presidential debate tonight. National winds will have a big impact on this race. If President Obama wins Minnesota handily and the election generally, he might provide Nolan the boost he needs. If the race slips away from him Cravaack will reap the benefits.

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