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