Vice President Joe Biden pumped up the Democratic faithful at a middle school today. But he wasn't just stumping for his boss.
Biden also campaigned for Pat Kreitlow, running for Congress in Wisconsin's 7th District. That district sprawls from St. Croix County, just outside the Twin Cities, up to Superior and over to central Wisconsin.
Just like in Minnesota's neighboring 8th District, this race is garnering a lot of outside attention and money. But the candidates are more colorful.
More than $7.5 million have been poured into the district so far — the most spending ever in a Wisconsin congressional race. That money has bought a great deal of television time, but the ads sound a little different across the border.
"In my younger days I competed in lumberjack sports, and I was best in the pole climb," says the television spot for incumbent Republican Sean Duffy, and yes, he is a lumberjack. He competed professionally as one to help helped pay his way through law school. In this ad he scurries to the top of a 60-foot tall cedar pole, using just a rope and steel spurs attached to his shoes.
"I'm Sean Duffy, and I approve this message, to take America back to the top."
In other spots, Duffy chops and saws logs, throws axes, and shows off some pretty impressive logrolling skills that he honed growing up near Hayward, Wis.
Those spots have sparked a volley of lumber-themed television ads between Duffy and his Democratic challenger, Pat Kreitlow.
"I'm Pat Kreitlow, and I have to admit I'm no Sean Duffy. Plaid? really doesn't do it for me. My axe throwing? Could use some work."
As Kreitlow speaks, he looses an axe that flies backwards over his head. The former state senator even gives logrolling a whirl.
Both men are clearly comfortable in front of a camera, and they both have experience before the lens. Fifteen years ago Duffy starred in MTV's "The Real World," an early reality TV show. Kreitlow was a well-known TV news anchor in Eau Claire before he ran for the state senate in 2005.
Away from the cameras, the race in Wisconsin's 7th District bears a striking resemblance to the race in Minnesota's 8th District between incumbent Republican Chip Cravaack, and DFLer Rick Nolan. Both districts are represented by Republican freshmen who surfed the wave of the tea party movement into office and succeeded longtime Democrats Jim Oberstar, who was ousted, and David Obey, who had retired. Both are huge, rural districts that have traditionally leaned Democratic, but have grown more conservative.
Friday morning at a restaurant in Ashland, Wis., on the south shore of Lake Superior, Duffy greets a couple of dozen supporters. He hits on themes echoed by Cravaack: growing jobs through reduced federal spending and less regulation. But these days Duffy distances himself from the staunch adherents to the tea party movement.
"Radical conservatism is not Wisconsin conservatism," Duffy said.
He said he has worked hard to represent his district's interests, not his party's.
"I'm willing to go out, listen to everybody, do town halls, do these 'Coffees with your Congressman', set up a mobile office that goes to all of the rural communities of the 7th District," Duffy said.
His challenger, Kreitlow, paints the incumbent in more radical hues, accusing him of voting for Paul Ryan's budget plan and threatening the future of Medicare.
"Trickle-down doesn't work, you build prosperity from the middle up, not the top down," Kreitlow said to 1,100 people who crammed into the Superior Middle School auditorium this afternoon to cheer for Vice President Biden.
On the stump, Biden put in a plug for the candidate.
"I'm anxious for Pat Kreitlow to be elected so we can have someone like Dave Obey representing this district again," Biden said, encouraging Superior voters to support both President Barack Obama and Kreitlow.
In Wisconsin, their fates are intertwined, said Geoffrey Peterson, political science chair at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire.
"Really, this is a referendum within the district more on Obama's presidency than anything else," Peterson said. "It's essentially: are you going to vote for someone who's going to support Barack Obama, or vote for someone who's going to oppose Barack Obama?"
Wisconsin's 11 electoral votes are considered up for grabs. If turnout for Obama is strong, Peterson believes that Kreitlow stands a good chance. In a district where the candidates duke it out in jeans and plaid shirts, the clothing that may really matter is the president's coattails.
But the amount of money supporting Kreitlow has recently fallen off. Over the past two weeks, groups backing Duffy have spent twice as much as Kreitlow supporters. Democrats appear to be shifting more of their resources to Minnesota's 8th District across the border, where spending has now surpassed $10 million, said Jessica Taylor with the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
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