DULUTH, Minn. - The battle for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District is attracting national attention, and outside money, because it's one of a few swing districts in the nation that could truly go either way in the fall.
Incumbent freshman Chip Cravaack was the first Republican to win in that northeastern Minnesota district in decades, when he unseated 18-term incumbent Jim Oberstar in the 2010 election.
Three strong and distinctly different Democrats -- Rick Nolan, Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson -- are vying to replace Cravaack. The trio will face off in Tuesday's DFL primary.
Anderson is the former city council president in Duluth, the Lake Superior port city that anchors the 8th district. He won the endorsement of the Duluth News Tribune and the Mesabi Daily News, in part because he as the deepest roots in the district.
He was born in Ely, a city on the Iron Range. It's two hours away from Duluth by car, which gives one an idea of how huge the district is. After the 2012 redistricting, Minnesota's 8th CD now covers 32,000 square miles of territory.
Anderson has lived in Duluth the past 15 years, spending four years on the City Council. He headed the city's economic development agency, after working in radio and television in that market. He also served in the Minnesota National Guard.
In an interview with KARE Anderson pointed out that his high school class in the 1990's was half the size of his father's graduating class, and the 2012 class in Ely was about half the size of Anderson's.
It's a testament to the changing fortunes of the mining and timber industries in the 8th district. Anderson's pitch to voters is that he's the only candidate who has witnessed the district's ups and downs first-hand.
"We're headed in the wrong direction, in communities all across this district," Anderson told KARE.
"And it's because our greatest export here is not taconite. It's not timber. It's young people who are going to find jobs and opportunities elsewhere."
He said that's why he was driven to become involved in public service and economic development. In his opinion a member of Congress can make a difference in generating jobs and opportunities.
"By investing in our natural resource based economy, by further investing in manufacturing across the district, we can start to reverse that trend," he said.
"Companies will want to move here when they see there's a work force willing and ready to make things happen."
Nolan is running with the DFL party endorsement, after winning that in the party's 8th District Convention in May. He's attempting to return to congress after a 30 year break from Capitol Hill.
He served in Congress from 1975 to 1981, representing the 6th District in the U.S. House. At the time the 6th District covered a larger section of central Minnesota, including areas that are now part of the 8th.
"I quite frankly never imagined running for Congress again. I don't need to be a congressman," Nolan remarked, during an interview with KARE at a coffee shop in North Branch.
"But I never imagined the country would be in the trouble that it's in. These deficits, these wars of choice, these growing inequalities, the joblessness, they're not sustainable."
Nolan's private business career has revolved around international trade development, including a stint as CEO of the Minnesota World Trade Center in St. Paul. He also ran Emily Forest Products, a sawmill and maker of pallets and skids.
HIs time at the helm of the World Trade Center in the 1980's has come into sharper focus now that the Clark campaign has launched attack ads against Nolan, accusing him of creating a nice position for himself instead of creating jobs.
Nolan called the ads an "act of desperation" from the Clark camp, and said he has nothing to apologize for when it comes to the trade center, which was designed to help Minnesota companies find export markets.
"Governor Rudy Perpich asked me if I'd help get him a World Trade Center," Nolan told KARE. "I worked for the first four years on the project as a volunteer, spearheading the project."
He noted that the construction of the $60 million headquarters, now known as Wells Fargo Place, generated hundreds of construction jobs. He asserts the center did, in fact, help Minnesota companies learn how to market their products overseas.
"During the Perpich administration there were 328,000 jobs created here in our state," he said. "And the World Trade Center was credited with having helped play a role in that."
Clark picked up the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton last month, and features a video clip of Clinton talking her up in the same TV ad that goes after Nolan.
"So many people are so frustrated about what's going on in Washington, and they're worried about their own futures," Clark told KARE.
"They want someone who's going to stand up and fight for them. I have a record of fighting for middle class Minnesotans."
Clark represented the St. Cloud area of central Minnesota during her five years in the Minnesota State Senate. In 2010 she mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann in the 6th Congressional District.
Clark surprised many when she moved to Duluth and announced she would run in the 8th District this time around. She told KARE that, at the time, she expected the newly re-drawn 8th District to take in much of her old state senate district.
"Central Minnesota is a huge part of this district," Clark asserted. "Districts and communities really don't know lines. They're just lines that somebody - in our case the courts -- put into place."
Congressional candidates don't need to live in the state where they're running. And much has been made in the blogging world about the fact Cravaack's wife and family now live in New Hampshire for job-related reasons.
Clark knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of a negative advertising campaign. The Bachmann campaign created a character known as "Jim the Elections Guy" to star in a series of attack ads.
Jim, played by a professional actor, slapped the label of "Taxin' Tarryl' on Clark, because of the attempts as a state senator to raise taxes to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans.
Democrats knew those proposed tax hikes would be vetoed by Governor Pawlenty, but they passed the bills to make a statement. They argued that the state's long-term fiscal stability was jeopardized by Pawlenty's refusal to raise income taxes on the state's highest earners.
"I already know the Republicans are going to go after me again on that, trying to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires," she said, "When I've been working hard to keep taxes down for middle class families."
The polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
Click on this link to go to the Minnesota Secretary of State's poll finder site. It also allows voters to check on their registration and to track the progress of their absentee ballots.
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