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Oberstar endorses Nolan; MN-8 primary contest sharpens

The race in Minnesota’s eighth congressional district is heating up.

At this hour former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar is endorsing Rick Nolan in the DFL primary for Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District. Nolan was endorsed by the DFL last month and faces two primary challengers in former St. Cloud state Sen. Tarryl Clark and former Duluth city council president Jeff Anderson.

The Oberstar/Nolan press conference is taking place at Chisholm’s Minnesota Museum of Mining in the replicated office of the “Iron Lady” Veda Ponikvar. Ponikvar, a longtime friend and ally of Oberstar who had already endorsed Nolan, will be present and the festivities will include a cake for her 92nd birthday.

I’ve avoided the breathless reporting of endorsements in this race so far just because there are few endorsements that will move tons of people in and of themselves in this race. I do think Oberstar’s endorsement, along with the DFL endorsement and the support of all the state’s top DFLers, will move votes for Nolan, however. In fact, earlier speculation that these endorsements give Nolan a counterbalance to the huge fundraising advantage held by Clark is probably true. It’s Nolan and Clark out front.

Clark is using today to “announce” her filing for office this afternoon. Meantime, Anderson continues to build a highly local coalition of Iron Rangers and Duluthians with a strong focus on mining and natural resource jobs. He’s announcing endorsements today from more Range mayors, a demographic strongly in favor of local mining projects. Anderson, whose fundraising has been anemic, has been doggedly working a grassroots strategy that more closely resembles a giant State Senate campaign. He will need a break or a flame-out by one of the frontrunners to break the 34 percent or more needed to win the primary, but it’s not unthinkable that he could do so.

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So, meet your field:

Rick Nolan: Traditional 8th District DFLer; a happy progressive fighter with experience and old fashioned retail political skills.

Tarryl Clark: A 21st century-style “tailored message” campaign running for the general election; lots of money for name ID ads to run at some strategic point leading up to the primary.

Jeff Anderson: young leadership; heavy biographical focus on Duluth and the Iron Range; elevated support and prioritization of new mining projects on the Range.

The weaknesses these candidates have are evident in the flip side of their strengths. Nolan is older and more tied to DFL establishment. Clark’s campaign has an outsider feel to it. Anderson runs the risk of relying too heavily on Duluth and Range votes he might not be able to deliver in numbers sufficient to win.

Each, however, brings something unique to the coming fight with U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8), the freshman phenom who ousted the venerable Oberstar in a 2010 upset.

Nolan would probably match up best against Cravaack in debates and in energizing DFL turnout. Clark could potentially outspend him. Anderson has the most direct life experience in MN-8, and would neutralize Cravaack’s argument that he is the pro-mining candidate in what could be a mining job-focused election (bearing in mind that no candidate in this race has expressed direct opposition to new mining).

There will be more news and drama in this race before the Aug. 14 primary, but really it will just be the process of public opinion forming around this dynamic. A clean, quieter primary campaign will elevate a DFL candidate with a strong chance of winning a competitive election. An uglier, louder campaign could give Cravaack a chance to eke out another win. All of this is predicated by the fact that a strong national wave, one way or the other, will likely take this seat with it.

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

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