Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Thirty years and $10 million later, Nolan’s back in the game

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In Minnesota’s 8th District, the DFLers and the Tea Party went head to head in one of the nation’s most expensive and closely watched congressional races. Rep. Rick Nolan was reelected to the House after a three-decade hiatus winning by almost 10 percentage points. Nolan’s challenger, first-term Republican Chip Cravaack, was the first Republican to represent the 8th District since 1947, beating 36 year incumbent Jim Oberstar by less than 5,000 votes in 2010. 

Nolan was portrayed as a legislator only interested in raising his own pay while Cravaack was painted as an insufficient Minnesotan after he moved his family moved to New Hampshire last year so his wife could be closer to her job in Boston. One of the main topics in this campaign is both men’s expertise in modernizing transportation and their desire to be named to the Transportation and Natural Resources committees. Cravaack was the No. 2 on the aviation committee and many believed his star status on the transportation panel made him a stand out amongst House Republican freshman. John Mica (R-Fla.) said of Cravaack, “We actually have a member of Congress who knows what he’s talking about on aviation.” Cravaack’s bill to help military veterans navigate Transportation Security Administration lines and his bill to replace the decrepit Stillwater Bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin were both signed into law by President Obama. Nolan said in a past interview he did not doubt Cravaack “is and up and comer”, however, he did not think Cravaack understood what the true need for infrastructure was.” Nolan often cited his seniority and connections that he still retained from his past congressional experience. Nolan seemed like a reliable candidate who chose to come back into politics when most people would chose to stay away.

The main reason this race was so closely monitored was its enormous budget. The mighty 8th District spent $3 million alone in the two weeks leading up to the election since polls had the two native Minnesotan’s in a tight race. SurveyUSA showed Nolan ahead by only one percentage point and Victoria Research and Consulting had Nolan up by 4 points in late October. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll found the two tied at 42%. Outside Super PACs and other groups spent a combined $8.6 million the most of any race except Pennsylvania’s 12th district and Ohio’s 16th. Cravaack’s campaign has reports spending around $1.2 million compared to Nolan’s $534,000 as of Oct. 17. Total, the campaign has spent more than $10 million in northern Minnesota. However, the race is not the most expensive in the state. That award goes to Michele Bachmann who has spent a whopping $21 million to try and hold onto her seat. The only difference is Bachmann is not getting nearly the amount of outside money as Cravaack. The majority of all this money has (not surprisingly) gone to negative attack ads.


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