Another Demosaur Headed for Extinction?

James Oberstar (D-MN-08) was running for his third term when I left the state in 1980, and he has never really faced a serious challenge. Oberstar, nominally a resident of Minnesota's Iron Range, has actually lived in Maryland for decades. Before he ran with the retiring Congressman Blatnik's blessing in 1974, Oberstar had spent a dozen years as Blatnik's top aide. During his almost fifty years in Washington, D.C., Oberstar managed to become the wealthiest member of the Minnesota congressional delegation.  

Ed Morrissey of Hot Air confirmed something I've suspected for months -- Oberstar may be in trouble this year. I wrote in a June blog post that I've had a feeling that Oberstar may be in for a fight. It's a sprawling, rural district where the New Deal Democrats who first elected the incumbents have died off in droves, private-sector union jobs have declined, and young people often have to leave the area to find work after high school. At the same time, there's been an an influx of more affluent new residents, not to the district's small cities, but to the resort hamlets. Indeed, if the information coming from Oberstar's Republican challenger Chip Cravaack is correct, a refrain of thirty-six years is long enough may be simmering just under the political radar in northern Minnesota   

In addition to this odor of overripe incumbency, voters may be finally noticing Oberstar has drifted steadily to the left. In his first campaign, Oberstar was actually the champion of private property rights to voters livid over the federal government's early 1970s takeover of vast swaths of Minnesota's Arrowhead region to establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), and the Eighth Congressional District probably contains the majority of Minnesota's 11,842 lakes

Oberstar says his proposed changes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' and EPA's jurisdiction won't effect local residents. That's a tough sell, as older voters recall being told by Democrats like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale that they would still be able to hunt and fish as usual in areas being taken over by the federal government. Those areas were, in fact, very quickly closed to all access except by foot and canoe, with stiff fines levied on anyone who strayed in via internal combustion engine. 

The same federal government which has come to dictate how much water should be used to flush a toilet is now threatening to enforce a strict definition of what constitutes a shower head. Such standards were drafted with arid population centers like Phoenix and southern California in mind, not the Land of 10,000 Lakes. These everyday examples of regulators gone wild make it easy to imagine how filling in a bit of shoreline on a small, landlocked lake could become a federal issue requiring an environmental impact statement.

Since the 1970s, there has been a split among members of the Minnesota Democrat Farmer Laborite party (DFL) based largely on environmental issues as well as social class. On one side are the Twin Cities liberals who cross-country ski, paddle canoes, shoot cameras, and release the fish they catch. On the other are those, like the majority of people in the Iron Range, who snowmobile, use outboard motors, shoot guns, and batter-fry the fish they catch when they don't take them to the taxidermist. Many in the latter group believe the executive branch will always side with the former, especially if the top executive is a liberal Democrat. This split explains why the last Democrat Governor of Minnesota was Rudy Perpich, an Iron Range native, who left office in January 1991. Wendell Anderson in the Watergate election of 1974 was the last DFL governor from the Twin Cities. 

Oberstar has always done an impressive job convincing Eighth District voters that he shares their values and not those of the Twin City DFL. The proof is that he almost always runs far better than the top of the DFL ticket in a district that is currently rated only D+4 on Cook's partisan scale despite its reputation for being overwhelmingly Democrat. Indeed, seldom has Oberstar gotten less than 60% of the vote.  

As Ed Morrissey notes, Oberstar's strong support for ObamaCare has marred his image among voters as a social conservative in a district that is strongly pro-life. The self-professed pro-life Oberstar not only voted for ObamaCare, but he also heavily lobbied retiring Democrat Congressman Bart Stupak and the rest of Stupak's pro-life Democrat caucus to drop its opposition to ObamaCare. Add in tax increases, Cap & Trade with its promise of much higher energy prices, and increased regulation, and voters seem to be finally figuring out that Oberstar has been doing one thing in Washington while presenting himself as something quite different back in his district. 

Chip Cravaack is the Republican challenger. An Annapolis graduate, Navy veteran, and airline pilot, Cravaack notes in interviews that not only is he a union member, but he's been a union representative for the Air Line Pilots Association. His pilot persona has appeal in an area where the cultural icon is Paul Bunyan the lumberjack. Cravaack has been a highly active campaigner who seems to have been drawing impressive numbers of volunteers across the district.  He has a great many Tea Party people and bloggers on his side. I've been watching him for several months, and he is running a very smart campaign for the district.  

Last week, Cravaack won two important endorsements. On Monday, the Minnesota Farm Bureau PAC endorsed Cravaack. They are also endorsing Democrat Collin Peterson from Minnesota's adjacent Seventh Congressional District. Peterson is currently chairman of the House Agricultural Committee and is second only to Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in seniority among the Minnesota congressional delegation. It is unlikely that the Farm Bureau PAC would oppose a powerful, entrenched incumbent from a rural district unless they believed the challenger had a pretty good chance of winning. Then, on Thursday, the Save America's Free Enterprise Trust (SAFE) PAC of the National Federation of Independent Business also endorsed Cravaack. Having these groups out there working for Cravaack among their membership will help offset Oberstar's traditional support from labor unions.

So far, the NRCC has not been interested in this race. According to Morrissey, who participated in a conference call for bloggers:

I asked Chip whether this poll would mean that he would get more national assistance, but Chip says he really doesn't need it.  The local organization has done a great job so far and that he has a ground game ready to go.  Another questioner says that the DCCC may descend on the district to rescue Oberstar through a huge negative attack-ad campaign, and that Chip may need the assistance from the NRCC to fend it off.  Chip would prefer to be seen as a local candidate with local activists, but notes that the bloggers on the call are all outside of his district, too.  "Bloggers rule," he said with a laugh.

In August, the DCCC announced that it had bought time in the Duluth media market. While this time was most certainly bought for the race against Republican Sean Duffy to replace the retiring Democrat Obey in the open seat in northwestern Wisconsin, the time could also be used to run ads attacking Cravaack.
James Oberstar (D-MN-08) was running for his third term when I left the state in 1980, and he has never really faced a serious challenge. Oberstar, nominally a resident of Minnesota's Iron Range, has actually lived in Maryland for decades. Before he ran with the retiring Congressman Blatnik's blessing in 1974, Oberstar had spent a dozen years as Blatnik's top aide. During his almost fifty years in Washington, D.C., Oberstar managed to become the wealthiest member of the Minnesota congressional delegation.  

Ed Morrissey of Hot Air confirmed something I've suspected for months -- Oberstar may be in trouble this year. I wrote in a June blog post that I've had a feeling that Oberstar may be in for a fight. It's a sprawling, rural district where the New Deal Democrats who first elected the incumbents have died off in droves, private-sector union jobs have declined, and young people often have to leave the area to find work after high school. At the same time, there's been an an influx of more affluent new residents, not to the district's small cities, but to the resort hamlets. Indeed, if the information coming from Oberstar's Republican challenger Chip Cravaack is correct, a refrain of thirty-six years is long enough may be simmering just under the political radar in northern Minnesota   

In addition to this odor of overripe incumbency, voters may be finally noticing Oberstar has drifted steadily to the left. In his first campaign, Oberstar was actually the champion of private property rights to voters livid over the federal government's early 1970s takeover of vast swaths of Minnesota's Arrowhead region to establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), and the Eighth Congressional District probably contains the majority of Minnesota's 11,842 lakes

Oberstar says his proposed changes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' and EPA's jurisdiction won't effect local residents. That's a tough sell, as older voters recall being told by Democrats like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale that they would still be able to hunt and fish as usual in areas being taken over by the federal government. Those areas were, in fact, very quickly closed to all access except by foot and canoe, with stiff fines levied on anyone who strayed in via internal combustion engine. 

The same federal government which has come to dictate how much water should be used to flush a toilet is now threatening to enforce a strict definition of what constitutes a shower head. Such standards were drafted with arid population centers like Phoenix and southern California in mind, not the Land of 10,000 Lakes. These everyday examples of regulators gone wild make it easy to imagine how filling in a bit of shoreline on a small, landlocked lake could become a federal issue requiring an environmental impact statement.

Since the 1970s, there has been a split among members of the Minnesota Democrat Farmer Laborite party (DFL) based largely on environmental issues as well as social class. On one side are the Twin Cities liberals who cross-country ski, paddle canoes, shoot cameras, and release the fish they catch. On the other are those, like the majority of people in the Iron Range, who snowmobile, use outboard motors, shoot guns, and batter-fry the fish they catch when they don't take them to the taxidermist. Many in the latter group believe the executive branch will always side with the former, especially if the top executive is a liberal Democrat. This split explains why the last Democrat Governor of Minnesota was Rudy Perpich, an Iron Range native, who left office in January 1991. Wendell Anderson in the Watergate election of 1974 was the last DFL governor from the Twin Cities. 

Oberstar has always done an impressive job convincing Eighth District voters that he shares their values and not those of the Twin City DFL. The proof is that he almost always runs far better than the top of the DFL ticket in a district that is currently rated only D+4 on Cook's partisan scale despite its reputation for being overwhelmingly Democrat. Indeed, seldom has Oberstar gotten less than 60% of the vote.  

As Ed Morrissey notes, Oberstar's strong support for ObamaCare has marred his image among voters as a social conservative in a district that is strongly pro-life. The self-professed pro-life Oberstar not only voted for ObamaCare, but he also heavily lobbied retiring Democrat Congressman Bart Stupak and the rest of Stupak's pro-life Democrat caucus to drop its opposition to ObamaCare. Add in tax increases, Cap & Trade with its promise of much higher energy prices, and increased regulation, and voters seem to be finally figuring out that Oberstar has been doing one thing in Washington while presenting himself as something quite different back in his district. 

Chip Cravaack is the Republican challenger. An Annapolis graduate, Navy veteran, and airline pilot, Cravaack notes in interviews that not only is he a union member, but he's been a union representative for the Air Line Pilots Association. His pilot persona has appeal in an area where the cultural icon is Paul Bunyan the lumberjack. Cravaack has been a highly active campaigner who seems to have been drawing impressive numbers of volunteers across the district.  He has a great many Tea Party people and bloggers on his side. I've been watching him for several months, and he is running a very smart campaign for the district.  

Last week, Cravaack won two important endorsements. On Monday, the Minnesota Farm Bureau PAC endorsed Cravaack. They are also endorsing Democrat Collin Peterson from Minnesota's adjacent Seventh Congressional District. Peterson is currently chairman of the House Agricultural Committee and is second only to Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in seniority among the Minnesota congressional delegation. It is unlikely that the Farm Bureau PAC would oppose a powerful, entrenched incumbent from a rural district unless they believed the challenger had a pretty good chance of winning. Then, on Thursday, the Save America's Free Enterprise Trust (SAFE) PAC of the National Federation of Independent Business also endorsed Cravaack. Having these groups out there working for Cravaack among their membership will help offset Oberstar's traditional support from labor unions.

So far, the NRCC has not been interested in this race. According to Morrissey, who participated in a conference call for bloggers:

I asked Chip whether this poll would mean that he would get more national assistance, but Chip says he really doesn't need it.  The local organization has done a great job so far and that he has a ground game ready to go.  Another questioner says that the DCCC may descend on the district to rescue Oberstar through a huge negative attack-ad campaign, and that Chip may need the assistance from the NRCC to fend it off.  Chip would prefer to be seen as a local candidate with local activists, but notes that the bloggers on the call are all outside of his district, too.  "Bloggers rule," he said with a laugh.

In August, the DCCC announced that it had bought time in the Duluth media market. While this time was most certainly bought for the race against Republican Sean Duffy to replace the retiring Democrat Obey in the open seat in northwestern Wisconsin, the time could also be used to run ads attacking Cravaack.