Republican surge takes down Oberstar

Rep. Jim Oberstar
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, right, and his wife Jean Oberstar, left, talk to a crowd of supporters at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, Minn. as election results continue to come in on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

The Republican surge that swept across the country last night ousted the longest serving member of the Minnesota congressional delegation -- Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.

Oberstar, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1974, knew he would face a tough reelection fight this year. But even as the votes trickled in from rural areas of his northeastern Minnesota district, Oberstar sounded confident.

"I want the nation to know that here in the Northland of Minnesota, that wave has crashed on the rocks of Minnesota decency, and goodness, and caring, and justice for all citizens!" Oberstar told a crowd gathered in Duluth on Election Night.

He even poked fun at the national political action committees who put millions into the race to attack Oberstar and boost his Republican opponent, Chip Cravaack. "It's going down the drain," Oberstar said, soliciting applause.

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The picture was much different at 12:30 a.m., after Oberstar had gone home. Cravaack, a former Navy Reserve captain, pulled ahead slightly. The race went back and forth until just after 3:30 a.m., when the race was finally called for Cravaack.

"It's a miracle what we've done," Cravaack had told supporters earlier in the evening.

Chip Cravaack
Republican Chip Cravaack celebrates after defeating 18-term DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

Some Cravaack supporters gathered in Hinckley Tuesday night to watch the returns said they'd respected Oberstar in the past.

Laura Olson, of Two Harbors, said Oberstar was an effective leader early in his career, but she said lately he had been "on his own agenda."

Charlene Harms, of rural Duluth, said her decision to support Cravaack came after Oberstar declined to hold a town hall meeting about the health care reform bill, which Harms opposed.

Not all of Oberstar's supporters were as surprised as he appeared to be about the loss.

Mary Markas, of Buhl, has always supported Oberstar and voted for him this year. She said he's been more out of touch with his district in recent years but had still managed to get a lot done in Washington, especially as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Yet for the first time this year, Markas considered not voting for him.

"I just don't know if he wanted it enough," she said. "But we're going to miss him up here, and I think Minnesota's going to miss him."

Catherine Wright, of Duluth, also supported Oberstar. But she said her 85-year-old father, a life-long Democrat, decided not to support him based on e-mails he received advocating to unseat every incumbent.

"Misinformation, fear, anger with joblessness have caused many to just throw everything up in the air and hope it lands in a better place," Wright said.

(MPR reporters Bob Kelleher and Stephanie Hemphill, and public insight analyst Molly Bloom contributed to this report.)