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Cravaack and Nolan fight for District 8

Republican U.S. Representative Chip Cravaack is trying to keep his seat in a historically left-leaning district.

Horticulture senior and Iron Range native Natalie Walker said her home district is distinctly Democrat-leaning.

History would agree with her. Before 2010, the area that is now the 8th Congressional District was held by Democrats for more than 60 years.

So it’s a change to see Republican Chip Cravaack representing the 8th District.

Now, Democratic challenger and former Congressman Rick Nolan is looking to take back the historically left-leaning district in a race that’s one of the most-watched in Minnesota.

The 8th District stretches from near North Branch to the Canadian border. It covers areas where timber, mining and tourism are major industries.

The race between Cravaack and Nolan is among the nation’s most competitive, said Tony Hill, assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“It’s really hard to remember a race in Minnesota that’s been contested as hotly as this 8th District race,” Hill said.

A flood of negative advertising and outside money coming in have also made it a particularly contentious election.

“You can’t turn on the TV in Duluth, even during entertainment programs, without seeing these constant ads,” Hill said. “We’re not used to seeing as many negative ads that are being run here.”

David Schultz, law professor at Hamline University, said the race has devolved into personal attacks lately.

“It’s a very nasty race that seems to be degenerating in the last week or so into less about what the policies are and more just simply all about personal accusations,” Schultz said.

Cravaack’s 2010 upset of long-term Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar could mean a tide change in the district, Schultz said.

“Democrats think that it was a fluke that Cravaack won, and Republicans want to prove that this district has shifted,” he said, adding that this election will be an indicator of whether it has.

“Within the state of Minnesota, this is symbolic about perhaps a change in how the Iron Range is being viewed,” Schultz said.

Though aware of her district’s liberal leanings, Walker said she tends to side Republican on social issues.

The Britt, Minn., native said she isn’t sure if Cravaack has her vote yet, but will be absentee voting in the district.

Finance senior Joseph Sabroski said his hometown of Duluth has always been left-leaning and was surprised Cravaack won in 2010.

Sabroski doesn’t identify as a Democrat or Republican, but said he’ll be voting for Nolan because he’s against increases to military spending.


Cravaack finds himself in a tight battle for his first re-election bid.

Cravaack served in the U.S. Navy as a helicopter pilot and came to Minnesota while working as a pilot for Northwest Airlines.

After repeated attempts, Cravaack could not be reached for comment for this article.

The first-term congressman sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Schultz said Cravaack has done what he’s needed to do in his first term in office.

“He’s definitely done the things that you need to as a first-term congressman to get yourself established with your constituents,” he said. “That is, to speak out on behalf of northeastern Minnesota.”

Hill said Cravaack has held town halls frequently in order to keep in contact with constituents and said his incumbency is valuable in a historically left-leaning district.

“If Cravaack weren’t the incumbent, you’d say he’d have very little chance of winning this district,” he said.

In 2010, Cravaack was successful in showing that Oberstar was out of touch with the district, Schultz said, but Nolan has accused Cravaack of being hypocritical because he owns a home in New Hampshire.

Cravaack’s wife works on the East Coast, and he said the family moved there so his son, who has autism, could spend more time with her, according to the Star Tribune.

Cravaack has campaigned on a platform focused on cutting the federal government’s spending.


It’s rare for a challenger to have more experience than the incumbent, but that’s the case in the 8th District.

Rick Nolan represented Minnesota in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1981 before taking a 30-year hiatus from politics. He said he jumped back into the ring because he feels he can give back to the country and the state.

“The reason why I’m running is because the country has been good to me and my generation,” he said. “I feel a sense of obligation to step up and pay something back.”

Hill said Nolan’s experience makes him anything but your typical challenger.

“[His past experience] has given Nolan a lot more credibility than he’d have if he was just a typical sacrificial lamb going up against an incumbent,” he said.

Nolan’s unique situation as a former representative means if he is elected, he’ll have more seniority in the Congress than Cravaack would.

Nolan said Cravaack’s support for Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget plan is what sets him most apart from his opponent.

“The Ryan budget at its core is about making the rich richer in the belief that enough of that wealth will trickle down to the rest of us,” he said. “I reject that notion. That’s what got us into the financial trouble we’re in.”

Nolan said the connection he has to the area can give him a leg up in representing the district.

“I was born there, raised there, raised my family there … and I fully intend to be buried there.”

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