Smart Politics is running a series of election profiles of Upper Midwestern congressional races leading up to the November 2nd elections. The series will culminate with Smart Politics’ official projections. The twenty-second profile in the series is Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.
DFL: Jim Oberstar (18-term incumbent)
Republican: Chip Cravaack
Independence: Timothy Olson
Constitution: Richard Burton
Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District comprises the northeastern Iron Range counties: Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Chisago, Cook, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Isanti, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, St. Louis, Wadena, and the southeastern part of Beltrami County.
Oberstar was first elected to Congress in 1974 when he filled the open seat left by 14-term DFL Representative John A. Blatnik in Minnesota’s 8th District. Oberstar beat his Republican opponent in that election, Jerome Arnold, by 35.8 points. Oberstar has now outlasted his predecessor, and is the longest serving Congressman in Gopher State history.
Oberstar has won 17 consecutive re-election campaigns, by an average victory margin of 45.0 points. The GOP has failed to field a candidate against Obserstar in two elections (1976 and 1978), and the closest a Republican candidate has come to beating Oberstar is 29.4 points – both in 1992 (Independent-Republican Phil Herwig) and 2006 (former GOP U.S. Senator Rod Grams).
In 2008, Oberstar won his 18th term by 35.5 points over Republican Michael Cummins and continued to serve as Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
In 2010, Oberstar will square off against three candidates – Republican Chip Cravaack, Independence Party candidate Timothy Olson, and Constitution Party candidate Richard Burton. This marks the first time the Constitution Party has fielded a candidate in the 8th CD.
Oberstar has enjoyed easy reelection bids this redistricting period, despite the 8th CD having only a +3 Democratic Partisan Voting Index score. Barack Obama won the district by 9 points in 2008 and John Kerry carried it by 7 points in 2004. Mike Hatch also easily won the 8th CD in the state’s gubernatorial race, by 11.1 points over Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty.
The DFL has held this U.S. House seat since 1946, but Oberstar will be facing his toughest test by far in Republican Chip Cravaack. Cravaack’s late-cycle fundraising run was aided in part by significant national coverage of the 8th CD race. The prospect of a political upstart’s defeat of a committee chairman, let alone an 18-term incumbent, is big news in D.C.
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