Newspaper article

Former Congressman Rick Nolan, in Comeback Bid, Revs Up DFL Convention Crowd

Newspaper article

Former Congressman Rick Nolan, in Comeback Bid, Revs Up DFL Convention Crowd

Article excerpt

ROCHESTER -- Late in the afternoon on Saturday, delegates to the state DFL convention here were growing weary.

They'd spent the day crowded together at long tables, applauding speeches by their elected officials and candidates, munching on snack foods and voting "yea" or "nay'' on a long list of insider resolutions.

Rick Nolan had seen his late-afternoon spot on the speakers' lineup and winced.

"If you had to pick a spot to speak, this would not be it," said the former congressman who is the DFL-endorsed candidate for the 8th District congressional seat held by GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack.

Nolan received polite applause from the crowd when he was introduced.

As he began his speech -- without notes -- the delegates were half-listening. But the longer he spoke, the more tuned in the crowd became.

"Who is this guy?" many delegates seemed to be thinking.

Nolan was talking about the need to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. He was talking about a single-payer health care system. He was talking about "gay marriage," not just opposing the so- called marriage amendment. He was talking, in compelling tones, about issues that most Democrats seem to no longer talk about.

In short order, the crowd was with him. The old guy -- the former 6th District congressman is 67 years old -- can still rock 'n' roll and move even a tired crowd.

8th District race getting national attention

Nolan, and the race he is in, will bring national attention and money to Minnesota politics this year.

First up is an 8th District primary that promises to be costly and intriguing.

Both of Nolan's primary opponents opted to not make any sort of appearance at this convention.

Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson have meaningful bases of support as they approach the August primary.

Clark, a former state senator, has a large base of national support, following her unsuccessful bid to defeat U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann two years ago. Anderson, a former Duluth city council member, has support of such Iron Range stalwarts as just-retired Rep. Tom Rukavina and former House Majority Leader Tony Sertich.

But it is Nolan, who served three terms in the U.S. House (1975- 1981) before deciding not to run again, who won the support of activists at district conventions.

This race has national implications because Democrats believe the 8th District seat belongs to them and that Cravaack's stunning victory over longtime incumbent Jim Oberstar was a one-time fluke.

That thinking, however, doesn't necessarily reflect contemporary realities.

It's understood by most that Republicans can fare well in the southern portion of the 8th, which includes the northern exurbs of the Twin Cities.

Political, demographic changes reshape district

But there are even potential political changes in Duluth and the Range portions of the district that create some anxiety for DFLers.

Joe Begich, who was a state representative (1974-92) from St. Louis County, has been attending DFL conventions since 1952.

"In the 1950s to the 1970s, there were 17,000 miners (in the 8th District)," he said. "Now there are 3,600 - and a lot of the younger ones are non-union," he said.

More shocking to Begich and some of his colleagues is that many of those younger miners find Cravaack "a pretty good guy."

"They're not paying attention to how he votes," Begich said.

But they are paying attention to some contemporary issues that create a philosophical divide in the contemporary DFL. That big issue -- environmentalists vs. mining -- came up again at this convention.

All of this means that whoever wins the Nolan-Clark-Anderson primary can no longer count on universal support from the lunch- bucket crowd that once-upon-a-time almost unanimously supported Democrats.

That there is going to be a highly competitive primary in the 8th will make it even more difficult to make Cravaack a one-term wonder. …

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