Cold Minnesota’s Hot Races

Northern Minnesota features one of the coldest climates in the United States, but the congressional politics of the region are turning red hot. Two new polls suggest that upsets of Democratic incumbents are now possible in both northwestern District 7 and the commonly called Iron Range District (MN-8) in Minnesota’s northeastern sector.

A new Tarrance Group poll (Oct. 12-14; 300 likely MN-7 voters) gives Republican challenger Torrey Westrom, a state senator, a 44-43 percent slight lead over veteran Rep. Collin Peterson (D). This is in sharp contrast to a previous Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll (Survey USA; Oct. 3-6; 545 likely MN-7 voters) that posted the veteran incumbent to a 50-41 percent advantage just 10 days ago.

Moving east, Survey USA yesterday released a new 8th District poll (Oct. 9-12; 555 likely MN-8 voters) that gives Republican challenger Stewart Mills a 47-39 percent lead over Rep. Rick Nolan (D). Previously, the last released data here, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee survey (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research; Sept. 25-28; 405 likely voters), posted the incumbent to a similar, but reversed, 48-37 percent advantage.

Both parties are now spending heavily in each northern Minnesota district, with the National Republican Congressional Committee stinging Rep. Peterson personally over his reimbursed expenses relating to private airplane travel in the expansive district that stretches from the outer Minneapolis suburbs all the way to the Canadian border.

The 8th District ads, and both internal and external spending is much heavier here, features attacks on Republican Mills for having long hair and inheriting a large interest in his family’s business while being accused of favoring tax breaks for “millionaires” like himself. The Republicans retort that Nolan voted to end any work requirements for welfare recipients, and supporting amnesty for illegal aliens who would then qualify to receive public assistance.

Westrom, a veteran state legislator who was blinded in a farm-related accident during his youth, is running an aggressive campaign. The latest spending reports give Peterson a huge 2:1 advantage in campaign spending, but Westrom has raised more than $700,000 and, with the outside group support, has adequate funding to communicate his message.

The 7th District has always been a district the GOP glances at because it is actually the second strongest Republican district in the state, both times choosing the GOP nominee over President Obama in numbers greater than 50 percent. But Rep. Peterson, who votes more conservatively than most Democrats and protects his political position, has not had a strong challenge since 1994. The congressman was originally elected in 1990.

Mills has been one of the more talked about Republican challengers since the beginning of the cycle and has run some of the more creative television ads of any candidate. Probably his most significant problem is the district’s voting history, however, which has only sent one Republican to Congress since the 1946 election and gave strong majorities to President Obama in both of this national campaigns.

Each of these contests are campaigns to watch. As the races enter the final two-week stretch drive, polls from across the nation will begin showing some surprising results, many of which will prove to be anomalies. These two challenges, however, may very well prove real come election night.

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