D.C. Dispatches is on the campaign trail in the 8th District this week, profiling the DFL congressional candidates competing in next week’s primary election. Today is former state Sen. Tarryl Clark
Second of three articles
SILVER BAY, Minn. — Tarryl Clark is browsing the fabric displays at the Behind the Seams quilting supply shop here in the tiny town. There’s a Cat in the Hat quilt draped over a door, and she’s telling a story about the time she made a Scrabble-themed quilt for her son and his girlfriend.
Clark has visited 13 of these quilting stores since Friday. Minutes later, she’ll hit up another, just a few miles down Highway 61. Minnesota’s quilters are hosting a scavenger hunt of sorts, and since the 8th Congressional District is home to a third of the shops on the event’s list of featured stores, Clark said she’s trying to visit as many as she can.
Clark is one of three DFL candidates running in Tuesday’s party’s primary election. And between buying strips of fabric for projects delayed by her campaign (“I get to collect more fabric than I get to quilt,” she jokes), she’s shaking hands and asking shop owners what they expect from their member of Congress.
A former state senator, DFL party official and candidate for Congress in the 6th District, Clark is a veteran campaigner, and she’s been showing it this primary campaign. She’s released a half-dozen TV ads, tries to attend up to 10 campaign events a day and has staffers and volunteers making up to 20,000 phone calls a week ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
She’s raised a ton of money as well ($1.1 million through July 25, compared with $171,000 for Jeff Anderson and $357,000 for Rick Nolan). A key prong to her closing argument is viability: In order to knock off Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack in a high-profile fall campaign, the DFL needs to put up an experienced, effective campaigner like her, she says.
“It’s always been about representing our families and our communities, period,” she said. “For me, it’s not good enough that it’s about beating someone. It really is about choices we have.”
Moving to the 8th
The question is whether such campaigning expertise will matter to 8th District DFLers.
After her failed 2010 congressional bid against Rep. Michele Bachmann, Clark bought a condo in Duluth and announced her run last May, opening herself up to a consistent line of attack from opponents who say she isn’t rooted deeply enough in the 8th District.
“Tarryl Clark has made this race more about her own personal political ambitions than about the people she wants to represent,” said Anderson, a former Duluth City Council member running a campaign based primarily around his life in the 8th.
But Clark said she’s more connected to the district than her opponents will acknowledge, having worked in northern and central Minnesota her entire life, “professionally, personally and politically.”
“I’ve spent more time on church floors doing youth retreats than Chip Cravaack has lived in the district,” she said (Cravaack grew up in Ohio but has lived in Minnesota since 1990. His family moved to New Hampshire last summer, but Clark’s own residency history would probably neutralize that as a fall campaign issue, should she win on Tuesday).
Clark’s career in the public sector has won her supporters in the Northland. Harlan Tardy, the director of the Virginia, Minn.-based Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, worked with her during time as executive director of the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, and said she’s “the best candidate to create jobs.”
“She’s innovative, she’s got energy and she’s going to do the right things,” he said.
Endorsers include Clinton
Though she’s a former DFL Party official, Clark earned a public rebuke from the party’s leadership in May when she bypassed the endorsing process and forced a primary. Nolan won the DFL’s endorsement, and the party has spent $135,000 this week on TV spots touting his candidacy.
Bucking the endorsement process, however, endeared her to some DFLers, like Barb Peterson, a former Senate District 11 chairwoman who left her post to back Clark’s campaign.
“We need a new breed in Washington,” Peterson said. “It’s an old quote, but I changed it. The problems that we face will not solved by the generation that created them. It’s not going to happen. We need new blood.”
Clark has a few high-profile backers in her stable, chief among them former President Bill Clinton, who broke with the party endorsement to support Clark (and finds himself starring in some Clark television ads). National political committees, including Emily’s List and ActBlue, have backed her candidacy, and they’ve invested in advertising her primary run and helping raise money nationally for her campaign.
Given the outside money expected to flow into the 8th District this fall, Clark said it’s vital to have a broad fundraising base.
“I’ve raised more money in the district and the state and around the country,” she said. “You have to be willing to have a whole campaign and you have to be willing to speak to the whole district.”
Clark, more so than either Nolan or Anderson, had based her campaign around engaging Cravaack and his record in Congress, specifically his support for a Republican budget resolution that would change the funding formula for Medicare — the so-called “Ryan Plan.”
But with a legislative voting record of her own, and a failed congressional run just two years ago, Republicans are ready to turn the tables on Clark.
Every few weeks since June, the National Republican Congressional Committee has released a statement bashing Clark. Every one has highlighted, above everything else, her 2010 deciding vote for a state budget plan with a $435 million tax increase at its core (Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill).
Clark isn’t walking back the vote, instead promising to support higher taxes nationally as a way to pay down the federal deficit. It’s the type of stance that will appeal to DFL voters next week but become Republican catnip in November.
“We know what they’re going to say. They’re going to say that I voted several times, and I did, to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. And I intend to do so again in Congress,” she said. “So I say, let it happen.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry
Friday: Rick Nolan
Wednesday: Jeff Anderson