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Slate of Democratic challengers vie for chance to face Cravaack in Minn. 8th District

Despite a courts-driven redistricting plan that could drastically reshape Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, candidates are lining up to challenge freshman Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack. Swept into Congress in the 2010 Republican tidal wave, Cravaack is widely viewed as vulnerable, and a slate of accomplished candidates from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party attests to that perceived weakness. Each challenger hopes to win the nomination and take back a district which had been held by the DFL for 63 years.

Minnesota’s 8th stretches from the northern exurbs of the Twin Cities to the Canadian border, encompassing the mining communities of the Iron Range, the northern forests and the state’s “arrowhead” region. Economically depressed over the past few decades, the district maintains a strong labor movement and economically progressive values, with tourism, mining, agriculture and shipping out of port cities on Lake Superior making up the region’s top industries.

Over the past eight months, Cravaack has been hammered by political ads that suggest he wants to end Medicare, based on his vote in favor of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan that aimed to change Medicare to a voucher system, a move Cravaack’s critics said would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Cravaack’s vulnerabilities may be exacerbated by his announcement in July that he’ll be moving his family from Minnesota to New Hampshire. The move may strengthen criticisms that his ties to the district are light: In the 2010 election, he was dubbed a “packsacker,” the Iron Range term for “carpetbagger,” for living in Lindstrom, a town at the extreme southern end of the expansive district.

After winning election, he acknowledged he’d have a tough fight for re-election. He vowed to only serve four terms but acknowledged voters may only let him serve one. “I realize this is a very highly Democratic area,” he said. “I also realize there’s a lot of people that really don’t like me being here in this seat.”

His greatest advantage: He’s raised $405,000 so far for his upcoming campaign, besting his challengers.

Against that backdrop, Cravaack has picked up three DFL challengers, two of whom have experience running congressional campaigns and two hailing from major cities in the district.

Former Bachmann challenger Tarryl Clark

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.minnesotaindependent.com/2009/08/6a00d834516a0869e2011571a27231970b-300wi-121x150.jpg Tarryl Clark

Clark, a former state senator in the St. Cloud area, moved to Duluth this spring to take on Cravaack. She gained nationwide attention in 2010 during her unsuccessful campaign to unseat tea partier and conservative firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District.

In a message to Facebook fans last week, Clark made it clear she’s still gunning for Bachmann — or at least trying to tie Bachmann to Cravaack.

“Chip Cravaack, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the Tea Party is willing to torpedo our fragile economy to fulfill their ideological agenda,” she wrote. “Adding insult to injury, they’re now trying to raise money off of their extremism. In this crucial moment, America deserves better from its leaders.”

Clark lost to Bachmann 52 to 40 percent, but she demonstrated fundraising prowess, raising enough — more than $4 million — to place her near the top among challengers nationwide in the 2010 election cycle. The race was the country’s most expensive, with more than $15 million raised between the two candidates.

Clark has been endorsed by Women Winning, a Minnesota group dedicated to electing pro-choice women. She has taken in $148,000 in donations so far in 2011.

Former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan


Rick Nolan

Clark isn’t the only candidate with experience in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District. Rick Nolan held the seat currently held by Bachmann from 1975 to 1981. The district had a much different shape back then, extending from northwestern Hennepin County west to the South Dakota border and north to Mille Lacs County.

“I never intended to seek public office again,” Nolan said at a press conference announcing his campaign for Congress in mid-July. “My view has changed because the times have changed. America is at a tipping point both economically and socially. The American dream is in jeopardy in what I believe to be the most dangerous and challenging time since the Great Depression.”

Nolan was born in Brainerd and owns a saw mill in the district.

He’s been endorsed by state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who was born in Bemidji, and former Rep. Tim Faust of Mora. He’s not yet reported any fundraising numbers to the FEC.

Duluth City Council member Jeff Anderson


Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson announced his campaign for Cravaack’s seat in May. In the Duluth News Tribune last week, he accused Cravaack of abandoning his populist campaign message.

“As a candidate, Cravaack rode a populist message into office,” Anderson wrote. “He promised to be more in tune with the people of the 8th Congressional District and ‘bring Minnesota to Washington D.C,. instead of bringing Washington D.C., to Minnesota,’ as he said at a candidate forum in Duluth. Cravaack successfully sold this message to people across the district.”

Anderson added, “But since being elected, he has veered wildly from his populist message, which swept him into office, and has adopted a far-right agenda that has washed away nearly everything he promised to do on the campaign trail.”

By voting to cut taxes for “Big Oil” and ending Medicare, Anderson said, Cravaack “showed he doesn’t really understand there are far more people dependent on Medicare in his district than there are oil tycoons.”

Anderson is also the only openly gay candidate in the race, a trait that may be a hindrance in the somewhat socially conservative 8th.

But Aaron Brown, a journalist on the Iron Range, recently wrote that Anderson is handling it well.

“His historic role as Duluth’s first openly gay city councilor is an admirable badge of courage in this traditional district,” Brown wrote. “Nevertheless, in a year that will see a divisive anti-equality constitutional amendment on the ballot, he’ll be forced to talk about his personal life in ways others wouldn’t. That’s not right, but it’s a thing.”

He added, “To his credit, Anderson is acutely aware of the challenge and speaks about it openly in his meetings with DFLers. It’s possible that voters won’t be as concerned with the issue as some believe.”

Anderson has taken in $30,400 so far in his campaign.

Although not announced, rumors have swirled in the district that Iraq War veteran and former staffer for Sen. Al Franken, Daniel Fanning, may also jump into the race.

This report is part of collaboration with WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” to cover the 25 most captivating congressional races from around the country.

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