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Cravaack finds appeal in the 8th to unseat Oberstar

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Chip Cravaack
Chip Cravaack debates Congressman Jim Oberstar Tuesday morning at the DECC auditorium in Duluth, Minn.
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

Raymond "Chip" Cravaack seemed to come out of nowhere to defeat Rep. Jim Oberstar, the longest serving member of Congress in Minnesota history. 

The margin was a relatively small 5,000 votes, but the upset was enormous.

Morrison County Republican Party Chair Perry Nouis recalls his first impression of Chip Cravaack. Cravaack visited that committee in October last year, seeking support for a Congressional run.

"And his few minutes of presentation to us was to the point where I said, 'If he related the message he just gave us, that he would defeat Jim Oberstar.'" said Nouis, a member of the 8th District Republican Executive Committee. "From that point on, a month later, he was at our meeting here in Morrison County. He impressed enough people there that they signed up immediately to join his campaign, and it grew from there."

Cravaack's campaign held off on attacking Oberstar, an institution in northeastern Minnesota, in its campaign ads.

Ad: Hi. I'm Chip Cravaack. As a 24-year veteran, I run against Congressman Jim Oberstar with all due respect. Yet I disagree with his record.

Cravaack, 51, projected a sober, serious alternative to Oberstar, who is in his 70s.

Cravaack was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy for nine years, a Commander in the Naval Reserve for 15, and a Northwest Airlines pilot for 17. At one time, he was stationed in the Pentagon.

Cravaack describes himself a Christian, and a strong opponent of abortion. He also has organized labor credentials as a former union representative for the Air Line Pilots Association. That helped in the 8th District, traditionally a union stronghold.

But Cravaack's conservative politics can be far from traditional union stances. He pushed for cuts in both business taxes and regulation, and said the 8th District wants change. 

"The type of change that brings jobs to northern Minnesota. The type of change that is going to put more money in our pockets so that we can spend it," he said. "The type of change that wants to reform out health care system, not replace the greatest health care system in the world. It's the type of change that business owners need to expand and create jobs, not bigger government and more government waste."

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

What impressed Perry Nouis was Cravaack's background, combined with his determination to change the direction of a nation he believes is on the wrong course.

"He's a Naval Academy graduate. Very concerned; he's dedicated to the country. He's genuine. He will level with you. There's nothing that will strike you as questionable about Chip Cravaack," he said. "People that meet him walk away saying "I want to work with that guy."

Noius said Cravaack won support among a broad range of Republicans and, he said, "[Cravaack] was able to attract I think a lot of conservative Democrat support."

Cravaack soon finds himself representing a district that leans conservative in the south and west, but tilts to the left in the northeast. 

Noius said Cravaack has the skills to reach across that divide.

"I'm sure that Chip is going to be more than willing to listen to all sides and represent all sides," he said.

Rep. Jim Oberstar
Rep. Jim Oberstar debates challenger Chip Craavack Tuesday morning at the DECC auditorium in Duluth, Minn.
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

Cravaack also wins plaudits from his former rival, Darrel Trulson of Chisago City, who ran against Cravaack for the Republican endorsement.

Trulson said Cravaack will make an easy transition to Congressman.

"He's going to learn very quickly. He's a sharp guy. He's very intelligent, and he should have not trouble getting up to speed in terms of how this country operates from the inside," he said.

Despite the splash he made on election day, Cravaack has kept a low profile since beating Oberstar. Reporters have found him hard to reach, and he was unavailable to comment for this story.