WASHINGTON — Rick Nolan remembers his first Congressional office, in the Longworth House Office building, the annex of which is so remote that “you get nosebleeds and everyone has to be stacked up on top of each other.”
That was in 1974, when Nolan came to Washington for the first of three terms representing Minnesota’s 6th District. Nolan served three terms in Congress and has spent much of the last 30 years adding private sector experience to his post-Washington resume. Now he’s looking to get back to D.C., seeking the DFL endorsement to take on freshman Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack next fall.
Nolan was in D.C. on Wednesday for candidate training sessions with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Joining him were about 50 other Democrats, including perhaps the leading candidate in the 8th District DFL contest, former state senator and the DFL’s 2010 6th District candidate Tarryl Clark. Both sat down with MinnPost to talk about their campaigns.
Though the DFL endorsement process is still a ways off — the lines for the district haven’t even been solidified yet — Clark and Nolan have established their campaign talking points and both tout strong grassroots organizations in the 8th. Even though they have an intra-party endorsement process to get through first — a contest that includes two other competitors, Duluth City Councilman Jeff Anderson and former Al Franken staffer Daniel Fanning — both tend to focus more on contrasting themselves with Cravaack than each other.
For his part, Cravaack passed on a chance to hit his Democratic rivals when asked about their visit to D.C. on Wednesday.
“When the DFL decides on a candidate,” Cravaack said, “I’ll comment then.”
The Democrats, of course, are commenting now.
“[Cravaack] is one of those guys who takes his marching orders from the Tea Party,” Nolan said, “and he’s totally insensitive to what the country’s need are and what the 8th District people’s needs and visions are.”
“We seem to have some people in Congress who are really bent on running our country off a cliff and taking our dreams and our families with them, and the current representative from the 8th district is one of them,” Clark said. “His priorities are out of line with our communities and our families.”
Clark, Nolan bring different backgrounds to the race
Both Clark and Nolan have stakes to claim in the DFL race: most obviously, Clark is the mega-fundraiser whose 2010 contest against Michele Bachmann established a donor list that helped her out-raise not only her DFL opponents but the incumbent Cravaack.
The campaign received more than $228,000 in donations during the latest fundraising quarter, and they’ve gotten gifts from more than 6,300 contributors so far, Clark said. She outraised not only Cravaack, who took in $206,000, but every other declared Minnesotan challenging a House incumbent, combined.
The 2010 race also gave her experience in a modern congressional race, something no one else can claim.
“I’m battle-tested,” she said. And on the matter of her new GOP opponent, “While [Bachmann] certainly might be a lot more flamboyant, they vote very similarly.”
Nolan, meanwhile, fashions himself as a statesman who has experience in Congress, the private sector and the communities of the 8th District.
He’s quick to rattle off his legislative accomplishments from his six years in Congress between 1975 and 1981: investments in railroads, establishing the Presidential Commission on World Hunger, helping write the Rural Policy Development Act of 1980, and co-sponsoring legislation to end American involvement in Vietnam.
Nolan also noted a sawmill and pallet factory he opened in tiny Emily, Minn., right in the heart of the 8th District. From there, he worked for the Minnesota World Trade Center Corporation as its founder and CEO, noting his time as — using a favorite term among congressional Republicans — a “job creator.”
Establishing a ground game
Nolan raised a respectable amount of money in the third quarter — $60,000 — though it pales in comparison to Clark.
But Nolan said he’s not concerned with his funding numbers right now (he also attended a private fundraiser while in Washington Wednesday night) and is focusing on increasing his campaign’s presence in the district.
“I think in a district like ours, the strategy you employ for winning the endorsement is the same strategy that you employ for winning a primary and winning general: a strong grassroots campaign,” he said. “You still have to have a presence and a campaign that resonates in the district. I have that.”
During an interview, Clark paused briefly to consider how many events she’s participated in since declaring her candidacy. She decided on more than 100.
“[Voters] are in need a real partner who’s going to work with them — not just campaign with them, but work with them in Washington,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure that people feel like they’re really going to have in me a partner.”
Whoever the eventual DFL nominee is, they’ll take on, in Cravaack, a Republican who stunned political watchers when he knocked off long-time 8th District Rep. Jim Oberstar as part of a Republican wave in 2010. The 2012 match-up will let voters decide between two significantly different visions for improving the country.
“Politicians are fond of saying, ‘this is the most important election we’ve had in our lifetime,’” Nolan said. “Well, clearly most people would agree that the country is in the most perilous struggle that it’s been in in generations. So by that standard, perhaps this is the most important election we’ve seen in our lifetime.”