Freshman U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack is expected to be one of the most heavily targeted incumbents this year. But the question of who will emerge as his challenger in the 8th District November's election is still very much up in the air.
Three DFLers are vying to run against the freshman, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, former congressman Rick Nolan, and former Duluth City Council President Jeff Anderson. Each tried to make a distinct case at a candidates' forum in Duluth on Thursday night.
In front of a crowd of about one hundred people at the College of St. Scholastica, all three voiced their support for a single-payer health care system, reduced spending on the military, and for increased investment in infrastructure, including the proposed Northern Lights Express rail line between the Twin Cities and Duluth.
They also shared similar ideas about how to balance the federal budget.
Clark: "Frankly we need to make sure that the top earners, the top income people, are paying their fair share in taxes as well."
Nolan: "The Republican approach to this whole [issue of] jobs, rebuilding the middle class, has been to give more tax cuts to super rich."
Anderson: "The fact of the matter is, we have a revenue problem as well, people who are not paying their fair share, we need to let the Bush tax cuts expire on those making $250,000 or more..."
They also all support controversial copper-nickel mines in the region, as long as sufficient environmental safeguards are in place. Anderson, who grew up in Ely, spoke most plainly about his support for mining.
"I want to, as a congressman from northern Minnesota, be an advocate for our mining industry."
Taryl Clark summed up her perspective this way...something echoed by all the candidates: "This is not jobs vs. the environment. We need to figure out how to do both. And I think we can."
Without much separating them on the issues, the candidates tried to differentiate themselves in other ways. Nolan, who served six years in Congress beginning in the mid-70s, touted his experience.
"I'm able to keep my seniority," he said. "If the Democrats were able to regain contol, I'd be eligible for a subcommittee chairmanship."
Anderson talked about his roots as a fourth-generation Iron Ranger.
"I am a product of northeastern Minnesota," he said. "I have seen the ups and down. My story is your story. I'm ready to take those lessons. I'm ready to take this northern Minnesota work ethic to Washington D.C. on your behalf."
Clark noted that whoever wins the primary election will need a lot of campaign cash to compete against Cravaack. She also happens to enjoy a huge fundraising advantage over both her competitors. She's raised more than $850 thousand dollars -- nearly as much as Chip Cravaack, who's raised just over $1 million. That compares to about $203,000 for Nolan and $113,000 for Anderson. Clark also stands out in this race as its only woman. That's a big reason why Duluth resident Kathy Heltzer is supporting her.
"My belief is, all things being equal, and I think that's kind of true in this race with the other Democrats, I want to see more women in positions of leadership in this country and especially in the Congress," she said.
Clark is not from northeast Minnesota. She bought a condo in Duluth to run in the 8th District after losing to Michele Bachmann in the 6th District in 2010. Both Nolan and Anderson have long ties to the region. Noah Hobbs is a Hamline University graduate student and Jeff Anderson campaign volunteer. He believes Anderson's local ties are important.
"Especially for this district, where you have people who are really strong, they have grandfathers, great grandfathers that are all miners, they're all very traditional, in their roots, and I think that's very important and Jeff embodies all of that," he said.
Despite this kind support, Anderson and Clark have work ahead of them. Nolan has lined up support among DFL party delegates. But even if Nolan wins the DFL endorsement in early May as some political observers expect, both Anderson and Clark have said they will still run in the primary. That means Chip Cravaack won't know who his opponent will be until mid-August.
Editor's note: This story has changed from the original to correct the school Noah Hobbs attends and to identify him as a volunteer for the Anderson campaign.