Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / News / DFLers already jostling to challenge Cravaack
Nearly four decades later, Bye is once again chairman of the 8th Congressional District at a time of political tumult. The defeat of 18-term U.S. House fixture Oberstar by Republican Chip Cravaack last year has set off a very familiar scramble for the 2012 DFL nomination.

DFLers already jostling to challenge Cravaack

Potential challengers to U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack in the 2012 election include (clockwise from top left) state Rep. Ryan Winkler, state Rep. John Persell, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Salon and former state Rep. Tim Faust.

Potential challengers to U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack in the 2012 election include (clockwise from top left) state Rep. Ryan Winkler, state Rep. John Persell, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Salon and former state Rep. Tim Faust.

Long list includes Nolan, Winkler, Persell, Faust – and Tarryl Clark

In 1974, Don Bye was the chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in the 8th Congressional District when legendary 13-term U.S. Rep. John Blatnik announced his surprise retirement. The news set off a political free-for-all in northeastern Minnesota.

“The next morning a dozen guys went to shave, looked in the mirror and saw a congressman,” recalled Bye, a Duluth attorney. When the electoral dust settled, Blatnik’s longtime aide, Jim Oberstar, emerged as his successor.

Nearly four decades later, Bye is once again chairman of the 8th Congressional District at a time of political tumult. The defeat of 18-term U.S. House fixture Oberstar by Republican Chip Cravaack last year has set off a very familiar scramble for the 2012 DFL nomination.

The 8th Congressional District contest is expected to be among the most closely watched – and lavishly funded – in the country. In February the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing radio commercials attacking Cravaack for proposed GOP budget cuts, making it one of just 19 districts across the country to receive such attention early in the campaign cycle. Earlier this month, EMILY’s List (the national advocacy group that supports pro-choice women candidates) announced that the northeastern Minnesota seat is one of the first five in the country it’s focusing on for 2012.

“I think the 8th will be among the top 10 Democratic targets in the country,” said Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University and a Minnesota native.  “It’s a district that’s been Democratic for so long and has a Democratic balance to it.”

Indeed, Cravaack is the only Republican to carry the district in the last four election cycles. In 2010 DFL Gov. Mark Dayton won the district by 8 percentage points, while President Barack Obama carried it by 9 percentage points two years earlier.

“That naturally puts it high on the list of districts that national Democrats would want to recruit for,” Smith said. “The million-dollar question is, who are they looking at?”

Contenders list long

No shortage of potential challengers has emerged. Former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who represented the 6th Congressional District from 1975 to 1981, is seriously weighing a political comeback. “I keep expecting my friends to do an intervention,” Nolan joked, “but so far all they do is encourage me.”

The Crosby-Ironton-area businessman said he is motivated by unsustainable federal deficit spending on entitlement programs and military campaigns, and the growing income gap between rich and poor. “I think the circumstances that we’re facing now are so compelling that I just can’t sit on the sidelines and watch,” Nolan said. “I’ve got to get into the fray.”

Daniel Fanning, an Iraq war veteran and DFL campaign strategist, has already visited more than half the counties in the district. He expects to make a decision about whether to officially enter the race in the next few weeks. Fanning believes his military background and work ethic will stack up favorably against Cravaack. “I’m not going to be outworked,” said Fanning, citing a widespread criticism of Oberstar in 2010. “I’m not going to be outcampaigned.”

Jeff Anderson, a four-year member of the Duluth City Council, is also actively exploring a campaign. He expects to file papers that would allow him to start raising campaign cash by the end of this month. “Just having Congressman Cravaack in Washington casting votes in lockstep with Michele Bachmann and Tea Party Republicans is my biggest motivation for wanting to run,” said Anderson, who grew up in Ely. “He is not representing the values of the people of northeast Minnesota.”

Bashing Bachmann is one area in which another potential contender in the 8th Congressional District has plenty of experience – albeit with less-than-optimal results. Last year former DFL state Sen. Tarryl Clark took on the 6th Congressional District incumbent in the most expensive House contest in the country but lost by 12 percentage points.

Clark was among six potential candidates who spoke at an 8th Congressional District gathering in Cambridge earlier this month. Of course Clark would face a logistical hurdle: She does not live in the district. While redistricting will certainly change the contours of the district, her current St. Cloud residence isn’t likely to end up within its confines.

Clark did not respond to two phone calls from Capitol Report seeking comment. But Bye believes she’s preparing to establish residency in the 8th. “I think that she’s thinking about or already in the process of moving,” he said. “It’s pretty clear she’ll be in our district.”

Residency is an issue for another potential contender, state Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley. Winkler is a native of Bemidji, part of which currently sits in the 8th Congressional District. He was also among the potential candidates at the Cambridge gathering earlier this month, and he has become an increasingly harsh public critic of the GOP-led Legislature in St. Paul. But Winkler would have to resign his current post to move back to the area and seek the congressional seat.

Area legislators weigh run

Other current and former state legislators are also eyeing the post. Rep. John Persell of Bemidji has been attending local DFL meetings to gauge interest in a congressional bid. The second-term legislator defied political currents last year by winning re-election by 6 percentage points in a swing district. “I’m certainly going to give it a good hard look,” Persell said. If he does ultimately run, the central theme of his campaign will be what Persell views as three decades of failed trickle-down economic policies. His question for voters: “Are you tired of getting trickled on yet?”

Tim Faust did not survive the 2010 GOP tsunami. After winning two tight state House campaigns, Faust was defeated by 12 percentage points. He is considering seeking the 8th Congressional District seat, but he sounds like a reluctant challenger. “I don’t think I’m the only one who is hoping somebody still comes forward who will be as close to a slam-dunk as we can get,” Faust said. “I think there’s a lot of people kind of in the same boat I’m in.”

It has been more than a decade since Brian Bergson served a single term in the state House representing Hennepin County. But he has been around the Capitol since then, working for Attorney General Lori Swanson and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees in recent years. Bergson has deep roots in the 8th Congressional District (his brother is a former mayor of Duluth), and is thought be eyeing the congressional seat. Currently he is serving in Afghanistan with the Minnesota National Guard.

One potential candidate who would likely push a few other contenders out of the race: Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon. The former three-term Duluth-area state senator has been rumored to be mulling a run. However, she told Minnesota Public Radio earlier this month that she did not plan to seek the post. “I’m not the right person,” Prettner Solon said. Despite that denial, there continues to be considerable speculation among DFLers in the district that she could enter the fray.

Despite DFL enthusiasm for the contest, Cravaack will not be easily defeated. As the 8th Congressional District has drifted south and west over the decades, picking up more conservative bedroom communities in the process, it has lost some of its strong blue hue. That process will almost certainly continue when new district boundaries are ultimately drawn.

“This district is not the big Democratic stronghold that it once was,” Nolan said. “Cravaack has proven that. It can go either way.”


Leave a Reply