8th District congressional candidates to meet for last debate

Chip Cravaack and Rick Nolan
Chip Cravaack and Rick Nolan shake hands after a debate at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge, Minn. Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. It was the third debate between the 8th Congressional District candidates.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

For their final debate, Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack and his DFL challenger Rick Nolan meet this afternoon to discuss mining issues.

The candidates will take the stage on the Iron Range in Virginia. As the Cravaack-Nolan race enters its final week, the battle will be to get 8th District residents to vote just as much as it will be over competing political ideologies.

Polls show former Rep. Rick Nolan leads in the 8th District congressional race, but only slightly. Most view the race as too close to call.

For more than a year and a half, Nolan has been trying to stage a political comeback, after leaving Congress in the early 1980s after three terms.

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Nolan said his call to invest in America by reducing military spending and increasing taxes on the wealthy is resonating with voters.

"The way we're going to get this economy back on track, get a balanced budget is stopping this so-called nation building abroad and start rebuilding America," Nolan said. "There's trillions of dollars involved here we can use to balance our budget and start rebuilding our aging and ailing infrastructure."

Cravaack said Nolan is proposing an "antiquated" approach that would harm the country.

Cravaack, Nolan
Rep. Chip Cravaack, left, R-Dist. 8, speaks during a debate against Democratic challenger Rick Nolan Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 at the Duluth Playhouse in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

"I think we both want what's best for the 8th District, except we are very different in our views," Cravaack said.

Cravaack is promoting a smaller federal government and tax cuts for what Republican like to call "job creators." That's what voters want, he said, not what Nolan is calling for.

"[Nolan] believes in bigger government, more regulations, more spending which is going to increase more debt, more deficit [and], in my opinion more decline," Cravaack said.

The Cravaack campaign's internal polling shows him with a comfortable 10 percentage point lead over Nolan, he said.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Cravaack has outraised and outspent Nolan.

But one of the biggest stories about the congressional race in Minnesota's 8th District is the amount of outside money that has been poured into the battle, essentially leveling the playing field while fueling an intensively negative campaign.

According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, outside groups have spent more than $7.6 million on trying to influence the outcome of the race between Cravaack and Nolan.

Independent polls suggest that Nolan has the lead, said Washington University political science professor Steven Smith. That would make sense, he said, considering the 8th leans Democratic and is described by DFL leaders as the nation's most-Democratic congressional district that is currently represented by a Republican.

"A reasonable hunch here is that Nolan has something like a five- or a six-point lead which, you know, is pretty much what you would expect in a district that historically has leaned Democratic with a freshman Republican representing it," Smith said.

Two years ago in the 2010 mid-term election, 80,000 fewer people voted in the 8th District than did in the 2008 election. Turnout was down around the country and political observers say it was largely Democrats who stayed home, paving the way for candidates like Cravaack.

As much as Cravaack and Nolan seek to frame their race as a competition of ideas, it will likely come down to a battle of which candidate can turn out more supporters.