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Nolan, Cravaack and the politics of place in MN-8

Democrats are raising the issue of Cravaack’s residency in the 8th Congressional District, but too late and in the wrong way.

The argument Nolan should have made is that win or lose, Nolan is personally committed to this specific area. In his gut.
MinnPost photo by Devin Henry

Last year, Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8) moved his family to New Hampshire so that his wife could be closer to her job in Boston. This was highly unusual for a freshmen member of Congress in a closely-contested district. The move made life easier for Cravaack’s family, which is admirable, but a political nightmare at the time for Cravaack. It seemed it would be a huge talking point for DFLers in their bid to win back the seat.

While “the New Hampshire” story was a frequent topic in the DFL primary, the issue quieted after Rick Nolan won the DFL nomination and embarked upon a high stakes challenge to the vulnerable incumbent.

That all changed this week when Nolan and the DFL began running ads that stated, in essence, “Chip Cravaack doesn’t live here.” The phrasing immediately raised the hackles of Cravaack and the GOP. Cravaack complained and actually got a Duluth TV station to pull the DFL ad, though Nolan’s is still on the air.

Cravaack’s campaign is quick to point out his scheduling records, which show him in the district some 160-plus days this past year — a healthy amount compared to other members of Congress and more than former Rep. Jim Oberstar spent when he was in office. And this checks out — Cravaack does fly back to Minnesota often for political and legislative events. He has a home in North Branch where he legally resides.

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The issue with Cravaack’s family being in New Hampshire is not a legal residency issue. The issue is that being in Congress automatically demands that you be out of the district doing your job in Washington, D.C. It demands that you raise ungodly amounts of money for your political survival, which takes a great deal of time.

What Rick Nolan should have said was that Rep. Cravaack might have strong opinions about national issues, but his roots in the district are light. He could represent a district in New Hampshire and do largely the same things he does here. He performs well by rote, doing interviews, holding meetings and giving speeches. But the argument Nolan should have made is that win or lose, Nolan is personally committed to this specific area. In his gut.

Unfortunately Democrats have raised this issue far too late and in such a way that allows Cravaack to generate sympathy. The lingering “wha?” factor over Cravaack’s New Hampshire connection remains from a year ago and it might well hurt him on Nov. 6. But with less than two weeks to go it’s likely that this issue will be lost in the cacophony of political back-and-forth that most people are beginning to tune out.

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

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