Many credit Nolan for steel tariff success

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) speaks with Gov. Mark Dayton and Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves before a press conference in Nashwauk Township on Tuesday, July 12. (Aaron J. Brown)

Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) speaks with Gov. Mark Dayton and Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves before a press conference in Nashwauk Township on July 12, 2016. (Aaron J. Brown)

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) faces another tough challenge from Republican Stewart Mills in 2016. Earlier this year I described this race as a tossup, possibly the biggest fight of Nolan’s later-in-life return to Congress.

That’s saying something. Minnesota’s Eighth District has been treated as a swing district since 2010, when Republican Chip Cravaack ended more than sixty years of Democratic rule. Nolan beat Cravaack in 2012, but only narrowly fended off Mills in 2014.

As I’ve written extensively over the years, MN-8’s swing status is only partly due to shifting political allegiances. A good deal of the change comes from the fact that the district has grown in size every ten years when redistricting accounts for the population stagnation of Northeastern Minnesota. Each time the district moves south, it absorbs more conservative precincts in central Minnesota.

Further, the youngest, most liberal Iron Rangers typically spend at least part of their voting careers in the Twin Cities or Duluth. Some never leave those places (You’re welcome, Keith Ellison).

Nevertheless, the narrative persists that MN-8 is the “Duluth and Iron Range” seat. Republicans still see the Iron Range as their great white whale, the region they think SHOULD be Republican, but that sticks with the DFL just the same. As a result, Republicans spend a rather significant amount of resources trying to tell Iron Rangers that than their pro-mining DFL representatives are anti-mining.

It almost never works. And it now seems like it won’t work again in 2016.

I wrote last week that the steel tariffs are working, putting more Iron Range miners back to work faster than I thought possible.

Nolan joined Gov. Mark Dayton and others at a press conference in Nashwauk Township about prospects for the nearby idled Essar Steel Minnesota construction project.

One of the stunning things that happened at the press conference was the credit Nolan was given for his work on the steel tariffs. We saw Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves, hardly a DFL stalwart, practically fawn over what Nolan did to bring White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to the Iron Range last December. Nolan followed up daily, eventually convincing McDonough and President Obama to act on foreign steel dumping.

Keep mind that this wasn’t a no-brainer decision for the administration. There are consequences to implementing tariffs that affect other industries and regions.

Further, Nolan has been a vocal supporter of other mining projects as well. He played an active role in prodding federal regulators to act more quickly to bring the PolyMet regulatory process to its next phase.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone loves Nolan’s position on this, but rather to suggest that Republican efforts to paint Nolan as “anti-mining” simply have little traction. That means that the Iron Range isn’t likely to go anywhere. The region no longer controls the district, but it’s a bellwether.

To be clear, there are few certainties in Election 2016. But what this means is that if Mills wants to beat Nolan, he’s got to pump up GOP turnout in the more conservative southern half of MN-8. He’s got to hope for turnout to be lower than usual in Duluth. He’s got to hope for Donald Trump to keep it close in the district, which will be a tall order.

In other words, Nolan enters peak campaign season right where he wants to be — perhaps in a close race, but likely holding his base and able to go on the offense. Polling could change my mind, and perhaps the district really is aging into a more conservative place. Still, I started the year thinking Nolan was in trouble. Now I’d feel more comfortable putting a bet on Nolan to keep the seat in DFL hands.


  1. All of a sudden Nolan is a champion of all things northern Minnesota??
    I find this fact humorous at best.
    It’s these very leaders that turned a blind eye to the foreign steel dumping, and where it got us as a region ; and now they are fighting for us?
    To little to late…. Where were they all before it became a problem, no where to be found; NONE of them!!
    Politics as usaul, they only come around when they need us….. and Rangers fall for it…. every single time!!
    Peace, Joboo

  2. Independant says

    Speaking of the American steel industry, I have been seeing multiple speeches and now ads from Trump specifically talking about the steel industry and how protecting it from illegal dumping from other countries. I am not a political genius but when you have that combined with Hillary stating that she will be putting coal miners out of a job I think the working class of the Iron Range might look toward Trump in bigger numbers than you think. Nolan has done a fine job as of very late to support mining in this area. However Nolan along with the rest of the Iron Range DFLers are an ancient and endangered breed in the Democrat party who are stomped out more every year by the extreme environmental wing of the new Minnesota DFL and they will have less and less authority within their own party each year. As a fourth generation blue collar guy in the mining industry I can tell you that the statewide DFL is not your grandfathers DFL.

  3. DFL is a joke. All they did for miners was give them extended unemployment benefits, which they wouldn’t need if they had done what they said they would do… their damn job.

    • IronMiner says

      Wow Carl, are you saying we didn’t deserve extended unemployment? I for one applied for over 50 other jobs within a 100 mile radius to not have to be supplemented by unemployment benefits, but when you have an entire area laid off, and everyone looking for work, it’s a little harder to land something than you think, even when over qualified… We have families to provide for, you would rather just see us kicked to the curb? Kids go hungry? Please, don’t be so senseless in words, we work hard, to keep a 365 day a year, 24/7 operation running, there’s lots of sacrifices a miner already has to make when he is working. Have a little more compassion

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