Abortion has become an issue in the DFL primary contest in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. A group backing former state Sen. Tarryl Clark sent out campaign mailings criticizing one of Clark's opponents, former Congressman Rick Nolan, for his past abortion votes.
The campaign mailings were sent by Women Vote!, an arm of the group Emily's List, which works to elect Democratic women who support legalized abortion. The mailings say Clark supports legalized abortion while Rick Nolan "failed to protect a woman's right to choose."
Nolan, who has been endorsed by the state DFL Party, takes issue with the mailing. He acknowledged that he did vote to forbid federal funding for abortions when he was in Congress in the 1970s. But he said his position on the issue changed even before he left Congress in 1981.
"I grew up in a culture that led us in that direction," said Nolan. "But you get elected to office, and if you go into it with an open mind and you listen to people and you learn. That's what I did in that period of time. And in the process I became a good, strong advocate for women's right of choice on that issue and remain so today."
Officials with Emily's List didn't return calls to discuss the mailings or the strategy. But back in June, Emily's List executive director Stephanie Schriock said that her group will work to help Clark win the primary.
"Our membership in Minnesota -- and really across the country -- knows how important it is to have a strong, strong Democrat woman representing any congressional district in the country. We just need more women in office," Schriock said.
Clark declined to discuss the campaign mailer from Emily's List, and declined to say whether she thinks abortion should be a factor in the primary battle. Instead, she's focusing on other issues. Her campaign released a TV ad Thursday that features former President Bill Clinton.
Clark recently announced that Clinton has endorsed her 8th District campaign. The ad, though, features video from the former president's endorsement in 2010, when Clark was running against Republican Michele Bachmann in the 6th District.
Regardless of the timing, Clark said Clinton's backing will help attract undecided Democrats to her campaign.
"This is about the people in our communities in our very rural district, our very large district, and what they care about," said Clark. "And he certainly is a good messenger to remind people what's at stake in this election."
Clark, Nolan and former Duluth City Council member Jeff Anderson are running in the DFL primary on Aug. 14. The winner will face first-term Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack, in what is expected to be the most competitive congressional race in Minnesota.
Several political observers consider the race a tossup, and many Democrats believe they need to win the northeastern Minnesota district if they want to take back control of the U.S. House.
Minnesota's DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said he believes Nolan has the best shot at beating Cravaack, and the party has been running ads to help Nolan. But Martin said party field staff will be more important in determining the primary winner.
"The 8th District voters tend to not be swayed as much by TV, and frankly radio and mail," said Martin. "In the end, what is going to move them are the boots on the ground that are provided by the organizations that are supporting the candidates."
Martin said he's confident Nolan will win the primary, but added that the state party will rally around whoever wins.
The DFL nominee will have just three months to prepare for the general election, and Cravaack appears ready. He reported having nearly $900,000 in the bank for his campaign as of the last reporting period.