Cravaack ensures that the 8th Congressional District election has a known GOP candidate
By Bill Hanna
Mesabi Daily News
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar had an opponent in 2008 who was known on the Range pretty much for how unknown he was to voters.
Remember Michael Cummins of Brook Park, Minn.?
Without much money for his campaign and running in the heavily traditional Democratic 8th District in what was an election year not friendly to Republicans nationally, Cummins proved to be a forgettable candidate.
He garnered the GOP boiler plate mid-30 percent of the vote against the veteran Oberstar, who coasted to victory for his 18th term in the House. In those 18 elections, Oberstar has only once dipped below 60 percent of the vote — in 1992 when he polled 59 percent in a three-person contest (Republican Phil Herwig tallied 30 percent and third-party candidate Harry Welty of Duluth got 8 percent of the vote).
But oh what a difference two years can make in politics. That national political tide that was so favorable to Democrats in 2008 is a fickle one indeed.
Two years ago Democrats took control of the White House when Barack Obama handily defeated Republican John McCain. Their House margin was fattened by picking up 21 more seats, giving them a 79-vote majority. And in the Senate, they were able, for a short period, to achieve the filibuster-proof 60 votes.
But now it’s quite iffy for the Democrats to retain control of the House. Even such a substantial Senate majority is in danger of turning to a narrow Republican majority.
And in Minnesota’s 8th District there is a Republican congressional hopeful who is highly visible and with grassroots support even on the DFL vote-rich Iron Range.
Chip Cravaack is working the 2010 campaign — and working it hard. The GOP 8th District candidate got to know the Range well during the summer months while attending parades and festivals. He has also had several fund-raisers in the area, including one scheduled this evening at the Eshquaguma Country Club outside Gilbert.
He has also been quick to respond to issues of paramount importance to the Iron Range.
When Rep. Oberstar visited the proposed PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals site near Hoyt Lakes last week to publicly demonstrate his support for the project Cravaack was quick to respond with a news release that pulled no punches in challenging the congressman on the issue.
“This project has been in the works since 2004, so I’m going to see Congressman Oberstar’s new interest as a good sign. Maybe he has figured out what Minnesotans already know: Oberstar’s failed formula of pork projects and deficit spending produces debt, not long-term employment.
“Of course he’s for ‘creating good jobs’ 67 days before the election, but where was he 400 days before the election? In Washington voting for Obama’s failed stimulus and corporate bailouts.
“If Congressman Oberstar was serious about getting this project up and running, construction would already be underway. His silence has been deafening, especially for the thousands of unemployed residents of Saint Louis County and their families. Actions speak louder than words. If Congressman Oberstar did something other than just talk about creating jobs, unemployment in our district wouldn’t be the highest in the state.”
Oberstar has been working diligently on the PolyMet project — which will create hundreds of permanent, spin-off and construction jobs — behind the scenes, but he had not been highly publicly visible on the issue until last week. So that created an opening for Cravaack, which he was quick to enter. And that’s what a serious candidate on either side of the political aisle does when facing an entrenched incumbent — apply pressure with dispatch whenever an opportunity presents itself.
You wouldn’t have needed any fingers or toes to count the number of news releases two years ago from the Cummins campaign that targeted an Iron Range issue. That number was 0.
But perhaps what’s most impressive about the Cravaack campaign on the Iron Range is how it has tapped genuine enthusiasm and even passion for the candidate.
Whether through letters to the editor, conversations at the newspaper’s front counter, personal e-mails to the editor or phone calls, Cravaack supporters are not shy in making contact.
And they are doing so not just because of their traditional GOP roots and beliefs. Nor is it solely because of the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, pro-tea party sentiment that is rumbling like an angry thunderstorm across the country.
All those elements certainly play into a more visible and active Republican candidacy in the 8th District. But Cravaack the person, not just his stands on the issues, has clearly generated more zeal among his likely voters in the area than for any other challenger to Oberstar in the past 20 years.
Plain and simple, many voters like this guy from Lindstrom, Minn., who had a strong and decorated military career, private sector aviation background with Northwest Airlines that included being a union steward, and who is also comfortable volunteering time in the Chisago Lakes School District where his boys, Nick, 8, and Grant, 6, attend classes.
And so just as he is working the district hard, his supporters are working hard for him.
Bookies would give Cravaack long odds to unseat Oberstar. And they would also likely install the incumbent congressman as a prohibitive favorite, given past electoral history, to once again top the 60 percent vote threshold.
But regardless the voters’ verdict on Nov. 2, Cravaack has made this year’s 8th District congressional race an interesting one, with voters paying more attention and the incumbent working harder. It’s impressive that he has not ceded any portion of the vast 8th District to Oberstar, a Chisholm native, including the congressman’s home turf.
And so come Election Day, there will be very few voters casting ballots and wondering, “Who’s this Cravaack guy?” That’s a very good thing for the democratic process.