D.C. Dispatches is on the campaign trail in the 8th District this week, profiling the DFL candidates competing in next week’s primary election. Today is Jeff Anderson, the former Duluth City Council president.
First of three articles
DULUTH — Here in the 8th District, Jeff Anderson doesn’t have the money his DFL opponents do. But he thinks he has something more important: home field advantage.
Anderson is running as a homegrown, “one of us” Democrat, a fourth-generation Minnesotan who grew up in Ely, went to college in Duluth and served as the city’s council president until last year.
He’s taking on former state Sen. Tarryl Clark and former Rep. Rick Nolan in Tuesday’s DFL primary. The winner will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack in one of the country’s marquee congressional races.
Anderson has tried to make the candidates’ heritage — and his inherent knowledge of, and pride in, the 8th District — paramount in his campaign.
Anderson is out with an ad called “Living Here Matters.” His campaign stickers sport the slogan, “One of Us! For Us! For Jobs!” He’s not shy about taking on both his DFL counterparts, not to mention their mutual target, Cravaack, when it comes to who really knows what about the 8th District.
Anderson has the smallest campaign coffer of any candidate in the race, but he’s banking on his connections to the district securing him name recognition that money can’t buy (and with only $7,000 on hand, he means that literally).
“My story is the story of a lot of people here,” he said. “I’m a son of the 8th Congressional District, of Northeastern Minnesota, of the Iron Range, of Duluth. I have deep roots here. … All of my opponents in this race really don’t have that.”
‘Vote for the Ranger’
Anderson, 35, is the youngest candidate in the race, but he considers himself a veteran of the 8th’s political scene, having held spots on the Duluth City Council and the Duluth Economic Development Authority.
He’s been running for Congress for 16 months, and what he lacks in money he hopes to make up in retail politicking: he claims to have traveled more than 100,000 miles across the district since launching his bid.
His campaign message is a simple one: I grew up here. I got a job here. I stayed here. And I know how to make sure others do the same.
“In Duluth and Northern Minnesota, our greatest export is not taconite, it’s not lumber. It’s young people. It’s because of a lack of opportunity,” he said. “I think there is real prosperity that is out there on the horizon. It’s just a matter to have the right leadership to grab it.”
Anderson said that means investing in the district’s economy, one based on pulling natural resources from the earth and shipping them out over Lake Superior. He’s made a concerted effort to appeal to the Iron Rangers who would benefit most from such a plan.
And lest they forget where he’s from, Anderson’s campaign literature declares: “Vote for the Ranger.”
Focus on mining
Anderson’s focus on the Range has garnered endorsements from Duluth Mayor Don Ness (who won election the same year as Anderson) to Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Chairman Tony Sertich and colorful state Rep. Tom Rukavina.
“People that have been in the political process with him trust him and are enthusiastic about him,” Rukavina said. “There is a base of support for Jeff.”
But focusing on the Range, and the mining jobs it contains, has its risks. Over a breakfast meeting at Duluth’s Randy’s Café on Tuesday, Boilermakers Local 647 board member John Weinhandl, told Anderson that Environmental Protection Agency regulations were “making things so stringent that we’re cutting our own throat.” Anderson said he agreed (Local 647 has endorsed him).
Later, he admitted to taking a relatively conservative approach to environmental regulations. He voiced support for a Boundary Waters public land swap deal Cravaack has pushed in Congress and blasted Minnesota’s sulfide mining regulations, calling for “common-sense environmental regulations made by elected officials … that’s what we need more of, but not the interpretation of [bureaucrats] who can use an opinion of theirs to stand in the way of development.”
Anderson’s fellow DFL candidates have taken pro-mining positions as well, but even Rukavina warned that Anderson’s strident focus on Iron Range jobs could risk turning off DFL voters elsewhere in the district.
“He hasn’t been afraid to talk about jobs and our natural resources-based jobs,” he said. “Maybe it’s made him a few enemies in certain parts of the district, but I’ll tell you, it’s made him a lot of friends up here.”
Samantha Chadwick, a preservation advocate at Environment Minnesota, said that Anderson could be walking into a trap that’s consumed other politicians in the Northland: advocating for fewer regulations to create more jobs, at the expense of the environment so many DFLers work to protect.
“My worry with him and other politicians running for office is that they’ll paint a rosy picture that sulfide mining will help the economy and, of course, it won’t hurt the environment,” she said. “I’ve never seen evidence of that.”
With the primary a week out, Anderson said he’s focusing on the 8th’s six northern-most counties, where DFL voters are historically the most active come primary season. He said he’s running television ads (though the campaign wouldn’t talk about the size of the buy) but he’s not concerned about being out-spent by the likes of Clark (who has had residual fundraising success after her 2010 race against Rep. Michele Bachmann) or Nolan (who has the DFL Party working on his behalf).
“The strategy all along as been focused on retail politicking,” he said. “[For] Chip Cravaack, one of the big factors of him winning two years ago was his grass-roots politicking, his hand-shaking, his being there, his showing up. That’s what I’ve relied upon.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry
Thursday: Tarryl Clark
Friday: Rick Nolan