Spending hits new heights in Oberstar-Cravaack race

(Duluth News Tribune) October 27, 2010
by John Myers and Brandon Stahl

With less than a week remaining before the election, the congressional candidates for Minnesota’s 8th District will raise and spend more money than on any previous district race in a last-ditch hope of trying to persuade undecided voters.

The spending advantage is overwhelmingly with DFL incumbent Jim Oberstar, whose campaign had already gone through about $1.8 million as of Oct. 13. About $400,000 of the money has gone to political causes and donations to other Democratic candidates, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The remaining $1.4 million has gone to print, billboard and television advertising — including Oberstar’s first-ever attack ad — mailings, travel, and staff salaries and other campaign expenses. Oberstar has been able to outspend Republican challenger Chip Cravaack more than 8-1, as Cravaack had raised only about $279,000 as of Oct. 13.

Oberstar has spent more on postage, for example, than Cravaack has spent on advertising.

Both campaigns probably will raise and spend far more through Nov. 2.

With national attention and money coming in to both campaigns, Cravaack’s campaign said it will increase its advertising spending in the last days. It’s also planning a “get out the vote” tour of all 18 counties in the district from Friday through Monday, with stops in 36 cities, said Kyler Nerison, Cravaack campaign spokesman.

“One city for each year Congressman Oberstar has been in office,’’ Nerison said, adding that the campaign has had to hold off on mass-media advertising spending until the last two weeks. “We’ve had to be fiscally conservative until now.’’

Oberstar was in Brainerd and farming areas of the district on Tuesday; will be in Duluth today with mayors from Duluth and the Twin Cities touting the federal transportation dollars he’s helped pull into Minnesota; and will be “home on the Range’’ on Thursday and Friday, said campaign spokesman Jim Berard.

“Jim will be out across the district as usual in the last days talking about jobs and his efforts to help pull the district’s economy out of the’’ recession, Berard said. “Now we’re into the retail politics part of the last minutes of the campaign, where it’s face-to-face between the candidate and the voter, shaking hands at paper mills and coffee shops.’’

Attack ads

There’s also so-called independent money being spent in the area and not counted in the candidates’ campaign spending. Conservative causes such as Super PAC of America, which has pledged to unseat 100 Democrats from Congress, is buying advertising in Duluth against Oberstar. So is a group called 60 Plus Association, which on Tuesday claimed it will spend $100,000 here in an effort to beat Oberstar.

At least one labor group has paid for a direct mailing campaign supporting Oberstar, while he’s gotten overwhelming financial support from political action committees, which have given more than $850,000 directly to his campaign.

With no independent polls released in the race, it’s difficult to tell if the spending is working.

But history is on Oberstar’s side. In 18 elections, Oberstar has never received less than 59 percent of the vote, and even a well-known former U.S. Senator, Rod Grams, could muster only 34 percent of the vote running against Oberstar four years ago.

But Cravaack has more lawn signs than any previous challenger and has mounted more television advertising than any previous Republican. Nerison said he expects the Cravaack campaign to come close if not surpass Grams’ spending in 2006 — about $563,000.

Oberstar’s campaign has felt the pressure. They have brought in more staff to bolster the campaign team and have battled back with an attack ad — the first time Oberstar has ever released one in a campaign.

The ad shows Cravaack suggesting the U.S. business climate should be more like Malaysia, which the Oberstar ad counters has virtual slave labor and an atrocious environmental record.

“To their credit, they have forced us to tell people who Chip Cravaack is, and we are doing that,’’ Berard said. “We’re telling people, most who know nothing about him, how conservative he is. We haven’t had to do that (with other Republican challengers) before.’’

Nerison said the Cravaack campaign won’t respond directly to attack ads.

What appears to be on Cravaack’s side is national sentiment going against Democrat incumbents.

“There’s this national theory that Democrats are in trouble, and the media is feeding on that,” Berard said. “It’s always more interesting if there’s a competitive race.’’

To counter that, the Oberstar campaign is trying to tout the incumbent as the best choice to pull the Northland and the nation out of the sluggish economy — that Oberstar’s success at attracting federal dollars to the district for new highways, airport terminals and other construction projects has helped stop the economic bleeding here and has laid the seeds for economic prosperity.

Staying ‘on message’

Oberstar also is sticking with his support of the federal stimulus package and health care reform legislation despite an apparent national backlash against the policies of President Obama.

“Our message is let’s stay the course, because the course we are on now is a lot better than two years ago under George Bush,’’ Berard said. “Who can do more fore the district?’’

Cravaack ads have gone as far as thanking Oberstar for his service, but then go on to bash the incumbent for being out of touch with northern Minnesota voters. They are critical of Oberstar’s support for national health care legislation and the stimulus package.

“He obviously wasn’t a terrible Congressman or he wouldn’t have been elected 18 times. But things change. They (incumbents) get what Chip calls ‘Potomac Fever’ and lose their connections to their home town,’’ Nerison said. “Chip’s message is clear: That it’s time for a change to bring some fiscal sanity to Washington.’’

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