CAMBRIDGE, Minn. — Three weeks before Election Day, Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack and DFL challenger Rick Nolan fought over federal and 8th District-specific policies in a debate here Tuesday.
The two candidates, engaged in one of the tightest and most expensive House races in the country, broke little new ground during the debate, rehashing their positions on half a dozen issues Congress has taken up during the Obama administration, and discussing 8th District economy-specific measures. As has been the case all election long, they agreed on little.
For example, moderator Gary Eichten asked the candidates’ opinions on the 2009 stimulus bill. Cravaack said it was ineffective and did nothing more than add to the national debt. Nolan said the package helped right the country’s fiscal fortunes and laid the groundwork for the growth in the private sector.
The two sparred on the Affordable Care Act. Cravaack, who has voted to defund and repeal the law, said he opposed it because of the creation of an independent care review board and the $700 billion cut to Medicare used to pay for part of the law.
Nolan called that hypocrisy, noting that nearly exactly the same cuts are included in the House GOP budget plan, only then it would be used to pay for a new round of tax cuts.
“The plan that you voted for takes the same $716 billion from Medicare and uses it to pay for tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires,” he said.
On the guts of the law, Nolan said he supported provisions stopping pre-existing condition bans and allowing people to stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26-years-old. Cravaack said those sections were the only good things to come from the law.
“If anything positive has come from Obamacare, we have entered the dicussion, and seeing that the American public want that, and they’re going to get that,” he said.
On the debt limit, Nolan hit Cravaack for refusing to vote to increase it last summer, calling it “irresponsible.” But Cravaack said he wanted to see more spending cuts before adding to the national debt.
“We’re spending money we don’t have, and we’re pushing it off to our children, who are going to be indentured servants to foreign entities and foreign banks,” he said.
The 8th District contest is considered one of the tightest in the country — a poll from KSTP last week showed essentially a dead heat between Cravaack and Nolan.
Both raised close to $500,000 during the last fundraising quarter, though Cravaack has saved his cash and had a 2.5-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage at the end of September. Outside interest groups are pouring money into the race as well — just this week, the center-right American Action Network debuted a $100,000 ad buy against Nolan, and the liberal House Majority PAC launched a $650,000 effort against Cravaack. The groups have spent $750,000 and $1 million in the district, respectively, and they’re not the only ones advertising.
8th District-specific issues
The two again tried to take the upper hand on mining and environmental issues, a major topic in the Northland and the 8th Congressional District.
Cravaack kicked off the debate highlighting his support for bills he said would have a positive impact on the district — a Federal Aviation Administration extension, a two-year transportation funding bill and an amendment he attached to it that would require projects use American-made steel, some of which would come from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Mining and the unique resources-based economy of the Northland were on full display, as well. In the KSTP poll, 8th District voters were essentially split on whether they trusted Cravaack or Nolan more on mining. On Tuesday, they tried to top each other on the issue.
Nolan said he supports environmental regulations, including those from the federal government, and that most miners he’s talked to do as well — they just want to speed up the permitting process.
“Clearly there are some things that we can do, without abandoning the regulations that protect all the wonderful great outdoors and resources that have kept many of us here,” he said.
Cravaack has long said regulations should come from the state; he backed a bill in Congress to freeze regulations on mining projects already in the works, including the much-delayed, oft-discussed PolyMet mineral mine in the 8th District. He slammed Nolan for supporting regulations during his time in Congress in the 1970s, including a bill to further protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, accusing him of siding with “Twin Cities environmentalists” over local interests.
“My vision of the 8th District of Minnesota is one of people moving into the 8th District for the opportunities that are going to be presented in the 8th, using our natural resources wisely,” Cravaack said. Beyond mining, he’d do that by focusing on “taconite, timber, and tourism”; Nolan said he’d focus on agriculture, manufacturing and improved infrastructure.
The pair debated — and disagreed — on a handful of other issues, from who was better for union members and gridlock in Washington (Cravaack blamed Senate Democrats for not taking up House-passed bills, and Nolan touted his title as a much-respected member during his time in office) to gun control.
The National Rifle Association has endorsed Cravaack and given Nolan an “F” grade, but Nolan tried to swing the issue to his favor with a little levity.
“The first birthday present I bought for [my wife] was a 20-gauge shotgun,” he said “The second present I bought for her was a .30-30 deer rifle, with a scope. So if the question is, do I support 2nd Amendment gun rights, the answer is yes.”
The debate, sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and Debate Minnesota, was the third formal get-together for Cravaack and Nolan. They have a fourth and final debate on the Iron Range on Oct. 31.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry