Earlier this week, the Politico news publication labeled Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-8) as one of the five most endangered House incumbents nationally. While we might not go quite that far, it is clear that the Republicans have recruited a strong challenger who is doing things a bit differently.
Called the “Brad Pitt of politics” because of his slight resemblance to the famous actor and his longer hair, Stewart Mills is responding to a liberal House Majority PAC attack ad in a unique manner. Mills accuses the HM PAC, or “Rick Nolan’s DC friends” as he refers to them, of splicing together parts of a talk he delivered to make it appear that he was favoring major tax cuts for the wealthy, a segment of society to which he belongs. The local media investigated and largely supported his charges, thus several stations have refused to run the spot.
The Mills campaign has now launched its own clever spot against Nolan, deliberately splicing together disparate film tapes of the congressman that amusingly portray him as saying he is “putting an end to salmon, cheese, and catfish.”
The 8th District of Minnesota, commonly referred to as the “Iron Range District”, occupies all of the state’s northeastern sector. Its largest population center is Duluth-St. Louis County (population: 200,540) that sits on the western tip of Lake Superior. Further inland lie the towns of Brainerd – home to Mills – and Grand Rapids.
The sprawling 8th is a reliably Democratic district (Obama: ’12: 51.7 percent; ’08: 53.1 percent) and heavily unionized, thus making Republican and Politico projections of Mills being one of the top five national challengers a bit optimistic, though the seat did fall to the GOP in their landslide year of 2010. Two years later, freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack (R), unable to get a more favorable draw in redistricting, lost to Nolan, who was making a political comeback after last serving in Congress 32 years previously (1975-81). For decades, the late Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) represented MN-8, rising to chair the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar was originally elected in 1974, and served until his defeat at the hands of Cravaack.
Now Nolan faces political conditions a bit closer to 2010 than during his successful comeback bid in the last election, and the Republicans have a well-funded candidate who can spend campaign and personal money to deliver his message.
At the end of June, both candidates had raised in the $1.2 million range, with Nolan having almost a 2:1 cash-on-hand advantage. Both sides have already seen outside organizations such as the House Majority PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee sponsor ads to attempt to derail the opponent of the candidate they support and further activity is expected.
Before it concludes, these two explosive political candidates will certainly make this northeastern Minnesota congressional campaign one worthy of attention.