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Minnesota Brown: 8th District about to get a close-up

We’re entering the final countdown of the 2010 election, a contest that will go down as a very informative historical study on the voting habits of (in no particular order) Americans, Minnesotans and the people of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

It’s good that I have been plowing through “The Rise of American Democracy” by Sean Wilentz during this campaign. It helps knowing that as crazy as things seem now, with the rise of the tea party and the like, that our nation was a good deal crazier and significantly more fragile in the early 19th century leading up to the Civil War, still this nation’s ultimate existential crisis. So I have the perspective of knowing that a Republican landslide would have much less impact now than when democratic-republican landslides 200 years ago launched us into the War of 1812, which almost caused us to lose the northeast and the Upper Midwest to the British. It was lonely being a federalist then, significantly more lonely than being a liberal on Tuesday.

For some reason I have the image of Paul Giamatti merging his performance as John Adams in the biopic of the same name with his Oscar-nominated turn in “Sideways,” drinking his best wine from a brown paper bag in a fast food restaurant, careful not to stain his powdered wig.

‘ve highlighted some local Iron Range races of note. I’ll be very interested in the governor’s and state legislative races, for implications abound over political leadership and quality of life in this state regardless of your party stripe. But the big event for a northern Minnesota political junkie has to be the outcome of the suddenly competitive Minnesota 8th Congressional District race between Jim Oberstar and Chip Cravaack (both pictured above right).

Setting aside my personal loyalties to Jim Oberstar, this race will be very telling about the political make-up of Minnesota’s 8th over the next 10 years or maybe more. On one hand it could seem shocking that a 36-year incumbent like Oberstar would find himself in a statistical tie in a Survey USA poll heading into this week. But in retrospect there should only be some surprise. The 8th is only marginally Democratic in non-Congressional races. MN-8 is becoming more demographically similar to the other Lake Superior districts WI-7 and MI-1, both of which are tossup races likely to break Republican this year. I’ve warned of this change in the past. My only surprise is that we’d be having this conversation before Jim Oberstar retired.

The credit there really must go to Cravaack, whose enthusiastic campaign (and lack of specifics) has made him very attractive to the kind of independent conservatives and marginal Republicans who have given Oberstar his huge margins over the years. When the race tightened the Cravaack campaign responded with gusto and the Oberstar campaign, with its guns fixed out to sea, a la “Lawrence of Arabia, wasn’t prepared for the surprise attack. We’ve seen Oberstar return fire via the TV ad wars in the Duluth market, but it should be known that if Cravaack prevails it will be because of his phantom insurgency.

I still predict an Oberstar win, but it could be a long night and a margin closer to 53-47 than my earlier prediction of 57-43. The main question I have on the polling of the 8th is the geographic balance. Duluth will be weighted as the district’s biggest and most Democratic city, but I don’t know how national pollsters account for the odd voting patterns of the Iron Range. Cravaack will do very well in the populous exurban southern districts of the Eighth, which generally report first. Oberstar will start the night behind, hoping for Duluth and the Iron Range to hold the line. I suspect they will, but it could be close. Look for towns like Hibbing or Virginia. If Oberstar is under 60 percent in these place, there will be trouble. If he is losing the rural townships like McDavitt in St. Louis County, or my home township of Balsam in Itasca County, there will be trouble. If Iron Range or Duluth turnout is down in any measurable way, there will be trouble. These are the things I’ll be watching on election night.

Democrats believed 2008 was a change election. Republicans believe the same about this year’s election. They’re both right. Change is coming either way and we’re witnessing the resulting conflict. Let’s have it out. American history needed both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, even if the two really hated each other. A lot.

This post was written by Aaron J. Brown and originally published on Minnesota Brown. Follow Aaron on Twitter:@minnesotabrown

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/01/2010 - 12:09 pm.

    Mr Brown, I would just disagree with your last paragraph, suggesting that Republican success this year will be about change. One of the many ways that the average person thinks poorly is in assuming that circumstances at this time are the result of actions at this time. The two years since 2008 have been about the very slow process (made infinitely slower by Republican obstruction and Democratic pulsillanimity) of slowing the ship of state and steering it ever so gradually away from the edge of the world, toward which it was steaming in 2008. We are only now seeing the first harbingers of recovery. Moving the balance of power back further in the Republican direction will be about the opposite of change, it will be about wrenching the hands off the wheel and allowing the ship once more to head straight for the abyss.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Brown on 11/01/2010 - 12:58 pm.

    A fair point, but I was speaking more fatalistically, that politics is an extension of the divisions in our culture and that the outcome will be determined by the events that play out tomorrow as much as in 2008. Voters were unsettled in 2006, 2008 and in 2010. They will keep lurching back and forth until they are settled. I don’t pretend to know when that will be.

  3. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/01/2010 - 01:45 pm.

    Mr Brown – I accept your point generally, and perhaps one of the (many) reasons why democracy doesn’t work is the disjunction between perpetual campaigning and the time it takes policies to play out in a large, complex society. But I’d hesitate hugely to say that 2008 or even 2006 was “unsettled.” Those of us who recognized the Bush administration for what it was (and would be) from the moment Mr Bush announced his candidacy watched in stupefaction as the public endured year after year of brutalizing our fragile society before finally shifting direction (and in fairness to the Bush administration but to strengthen my point, our current economic distress is at least 30 bipartisan years in the making and the public still isn’t getting it).

  4. Submitted by Aaron Brown on 11/02/2010 - 08:06 am.

    President Bush indeed must be held to account, historically now, for what he did. As must President Obama. But I guess what I’m saying is that Bush was an “effect” as much as he was a “cause.” ’06 and ’08 were part of the inevitable backlash against the unraveling of the system. This year’s high drama is a reaction to the collective realization that fixing the mess that started in the ’70s and ’80s will require great sacrifice. Democrats and Republicans disagree on how that sacrifice should be enacted. Voters seem unwilling to commit one way or the other.

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