By Tom Coombe
Republicans seeking office in the Ely area, the Iron Range and throughout Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District face difficult odds.
But Chip Cravaack hopes to buck that trend and unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D), and he found more than a few supporters on Monday during a whirlwind visit to Ely.
More than 150 people packed the pavilion at Semers Park for a Cravaack rally and fundraiser, the feature event during a nine-hour tour that included numerous other stops.
Interrupted at times by applause and even once with a standing ovation, Cravaack mixed strong support for proposed local mining ventures with traditional Republican stances on national issues ranging from health care to taxes and social security.
And while listeners fanned themselves on a sweltering afternoon, Cravaack stepped up the heat against Oberstar, charging that it was time for the 18-term incumbent to go.
“Together we can change the course of this country,” said Cravaack, a former Navy captain and retired Northwest Airlines pilot who now lives in Lindstrom.
“What Congress can break, Congress can fix, but first we have to fix Congress. I hope to change Jim Oberstar in November.”
Speaking to a mix of Republicans and independents, business owners and union members, and even one person who wore a “Democrat for Chip” T-shirt, Cravaack conceded he faced a difficult fight against an incumbent who has traditionally won re-election with ease, racking up huge margins in Ely and the spacious district as a whole.
But one Cravaack convert told the crowd he was hopeful for an upset.
“I remember waking up and Jesse Ventura was elected (governor, in 1998),” said Elyite Paul Maki. “This can happen again in the Eighth District.”
Many in the crowd dropped checks and cash of varying denominations into a container while dining on barbecued ribs at the event.
Cravaack welcomed the group, joked that the crowd far exceeded pre-event estimates, and quickly went on the offensive against Oberstar.
“What I see in the Eighth District just doesn’t add up,” said Cravaack. “We have an abundance of resources, yet the Eighth District is one of the most recessed areas of the country. Why is that?”
According to Cravaack, government “is the problem,” alleging that tax structure, the bureaucracy and government regulations unfairly burden small business and job creation efforts.
“If we don’t turn it around in 2010, we are going to be a socialist country,” said Cravaack, who admitted that the Tea Party movement helped ignite his interest in politics. “Or we are going to turn it around again and construct a free market economy.”
Cravaack blasted Oberstar for his support of federal stimulus legislation, federal spending, as well as the landmark health care bill passed into law.
“If you don’t have any money left in the checkbook, you stop writing checks,” said Cravaack. “I’ve found it’s really a bad idea to pay your Visa off with your Master Card.”
Responding to a question posed by Ely School Board member Scott Kellerman, who asked Cravaack what he proposed to “do with Obama Care once Republicans take back the House,” Cravaack answered he hoped there would be enough votes to “totally repeal it” and override a presidential veto.
“We need to have a majority in Congress to do so,” said Cravaack.
Cravaack said taxes would need to be doubled “just to remain solvent” if current spending patterns continued, and called for solutions ranging from the elimination of unidentified “whole sections of government.”
Cravaack also said he worried about the solvency of federal programs including Social Security, and voiced support for privatization of some Social Security accounts.
He also opposes efforts to phase out tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration.
“The last thing we need now in a recessed economy is more taxes,” said Cravaack.
On national defense, Cravaack touted vigilance and remaining on the offensive against terrorist threats.
“Appeasement has never been a successful defense strategy,” said Cravaack. “It’s a bold country that holds the dove of peace in one hand and a gun in another… If freedom dies here, who’s going to carry the torch?”
He also said that government “needed the will” to fight illegal immigration.
Cravaack was present at a reception, held at Target Field earlier in the month, to celebrate Chilean company Antofagasta’s $130 million investment in the proposed Twin Metals mining venture south of Ely.
He told the crowd that he’s behind the project and would do whatever is in his power to “fast track” the project as well as the proposed PolyMet copper mine near Babbitt.
The event at Semers was part of a day that also included an appearance at the Ely Area Development Association quarterly session, a private meeting with Twin Metals officials, and stops at area businesses including the DQ Grill and Chill, the Ely Golf Course and several restaurants and bars.
Cravaack came to Ely in a large campaign RV, a vehicle that has crisscrossed around a district that stretches from the Canadian border to the Twin Cities suburbs, west to the Brainerd area.
His path crossed with Oberstar earlier in the month at a parade, and Cravaack said he’s hopeful Oberstar will agree to appear at a debate slated for Sept. 18.