They confronted the cold and defied the drifts. And even if the blizzard were in full howl, members of the Elephant Club would have come to the Minneapolis Hilton Monday to hear the man who defeated 36-year incumbent congressman Jim Oberstar. Chip Cravaack offered this group of Reagan Republicans a serving of solid GOP canon laced with a cup of Tea Party principles.
Cravaack told the crowd of about 200 (many of whom came down from the 8th District) that he could not support the federal tax bill now under debate that will extend tax cuts and unemployment benefits. While acknowledging he has not read the bill, if the bill adds to the deficit (it does), it’s a “deal breaker,” he said.
“I am really concerned about what’s happened in this lame duck session,” he said. “Waiting for this debt to get kicked down the road is unacceptable.”
He explained in an interview later that the goal of deficit reduction is how he got involved in politics and that his freshman class of congressmen is united in that battle. “We are one third of the voting bloc [in the 2011 Congress],” he said. “We are all pretty much on the same page.”
The freshman class will face challenges, he said, not the least of which is getting re-elected. Even though he’s not yet sworn in, Cravaack made a plea to the crowd for campaign contributions and support. “I am told by the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] that I am one of their number one targets,” he said.
Cravaack told the audience that he believes the 8th District, a solid labor union district with a strong DFL tilt, will remain behind him. He made inroads during his campaign, he said, by working at the ground level, visiting a mine, for example, where he explained he is a Republican who is a member of a labor union. (Cravaack was a Northwest Airlines pilot, now retired.) “I want to break the mold that the GOP is not interested in the working man,” he said.
But can the working man in northern Minnesota break from the projects that Oberstar brought home so consistently? Cravaack admits that he hears from people who want those projects, but “let’s take all that quote-unquote pork and let MnDot decide where that money should go. Instead of bike paths, we need to improve I-35 north of Sandstone.”
Job creation is not such a contentious subject on the Iron Range. Cravaack made it clear he fully supports two mining projects that are winding through the federal and state environmental approval process.
“Oberstar wanted to regulate every puddle in the state,” said an audience member. Cravaack responded, “We have to rein in the EPA. We want to make sure the EPA is working with us.”
That’s what the Elephant Club wanted to hear. Cravaack’s entrance was greeted with whoops and applause. As he left, they crowded around for personal greetings and photos.
Said GOP strategist Brian McClung: “Chip Cravaack is the poster boy of the GOP takeover of the U.S. House.”