NORTH BRANCH — Consider it general election season.
One day after Democrats chose his opponent, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack kicked off his first re-election campaign with a event at his sparsely-decorated offices in North Branch on Wednesday before heading up to a series of campaign stops in Duluth.
The freshman Republican, one of the top targets for Democrats nationally, laid out a general election message focused both on tried and true conservative principles (reducing the federal deficit through spending cuts and lowering taxes to spur job creation) as well as one focused specifically on 8th District interests, drawing from the work he’s done during his first term in Congress.
“We have to get out country back on track,” he said. “We have to get our fiscal ship back in order, I can’t say that enough, or else we’re well on our way to what’s going on in Europe.”
Cravaack continued to voice his support for Republican policies like spending cuts, lowered tax rates and fewer regulations, with the idea that such measures would spur more hiring in the private sector. He decried the federal deficit, the per-person share of which has grown $5,000 over the course of his term, he said.
But Cravaack also highlighted his 8th District-specific provisions: a measure authorizing a land swap in the Boundary Waters, an amendment to a transportation bill requiring projects to use American-made steel (presumably using ore from the Iron Range), a bill streamlining environmental review procedures for mining operations, and others.
He said increased mining could add up to 2,000 jobs in the district, though Cravaack fashioned himself not just as a job creator, but rather someone “being able to create a career” for those on the Range.
“I will always be fighting for the 8th District of Minnesota,” he said. “I take great pride in our mining and our forestry. … I’m so proud of this area because we have so much unleashed potential. We just have to get government out of the way so we can get to it.”t
Cravaack defends the Ryan plan
Voters swept Cravaack into office during the Republican wave election in 2010, when he knocked off 18-term Rep. James Oberstar by 1.6 percentage points, some 4,400 votes. He said he wasn’t looking to replicate the Democrat’s longevity, vowing to retire from Congress after he’s served four terms.
Democrats, of course, hope he doesn’t get a second.
DFLers held a “unity rally” in Duluth on Wednesday afternoon to affirm their support for Rick Nolan, a former congressman and businessman looking to return to Washington more than 30 years after he left Congress the first time. Democrats have promised to tie Cravaack to the most controversial votes he’s taken during his year and a half in Congress, especially those in favor of the Paul Ryan-proposed budget plan that would change Medicare to, in part, a voucher program.
But Cravaack is ready to make a case for the Ryan plan. Unprompted, he launched into a full-throated defense of the Ryan bill and the failures of Democrats to work on the issue in the past.
“The only plan that has been presented before Congress is the U.S. House plan. And that is going to preserve Medicare,” he said. “Medicare is bankrupt. It is bankrupt. What will happen then is we’ll have to go to austerity measures, just like you’re seeing in Europe. To do nothing is a dereliction of duty.”
(Since we’re talking about Paul Ryan, Cravaack said he was “truly impressed” with Mitt Romney’s choice of running mates. “There’s a few members of Congress that are truly the go-to guys, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, and Paul Ryan is one of those go-to guys,” Cravaack said.)
Both vow a ‘civil’ campaign
Cravaack called Nolan on Tuesday night to congratulate him on winning the primary. The two have met just a few times, at parades throughout the district, Cravaack said. There is already one debate scheduled: Oct. 9 in Duluth.
Cravaack described Nolan as “a bigger-government, increase-spending, more-taxes, more-regulation type of mentality.” Nolan has readily said he was the most liberal Democrat in the field of DFLers this week but said Cravaack probably never would have won in 2010 had Democrats been able to drive up turnout.
Regardless, both Cravaack and Nolan vowed to run a campaign focused on the issues, and used the same word to describe the tenor of the race to come: “civil.”
“He’s a real gentleman,” Nolan told MinnPost Tuesday night. “He served his country well, and I predict we’re going to have a good, civil debate and discussion about where we differ on the issues.
“I think we’re going to have a spirited campaign,” Cravaack said. “I think we’re going to focus on the issues. I told Rick, ‘You and I have the same goals— we just have very different paths.’”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry