Back-patting opponents face off in Cambridge debate

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack and the Democratic challenger, former Congressman Rick Nolan, patted each other’s backs, stood smiling side-by-side for photos and  exchanged barbs about their ages.
Eighth District Chip Cravaack, left, and his opponent, Rick Nolan, right, debated in Cambridge. Photo by T.W. Budig

But the debate at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Cambridge Tuesday (Oct. 16) showed, pleasantries aside, two politically different men.

Cravaack and Nolan are engaged in one of the most closely watched races in the country in the 8th Congressional District — a big-dollar affair with millions being spent to influence whether Cravaack, seeking a second term, returns to Washington or whether Nolan, who served three terms in the late 1970s, replaces the upstart who defeated long-serving Congressman James Oberstar two years ago.
The influential Cook Political Report, which diagnoses congressional races, rates the 8th District a “toss-up.”
Cravaack and Nolan showed clearly different stances on the issues.
On the federal stimulus, Nolan said the infusion of federal dollars achieved its goal of helping the ailing economy. For Cravaack, the stimulus was a negative.
“All we did is add more to our (national) debt,” he said.
The two candidates differed on the Affordable Care Act, or so-called Obamacare — Cravaack saying repeal it.
Nolan lauded features such as allowing children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance as reason not to repeal the landmark bill.
On the question of raising the federal debt ceiling, Cravaack argued against allowing more debt, speaking of the country’s children becoming “indentured servants” to foreign governments and other lenders.
“You have to pay your bills, Chip,” said Nolan, arguing that to allow the nation to default would be disastrous.
Over the course of the debate Cravaack questioned Nolan’s record as congressman, charging Nolan missed a third of his votes his final year in Congress, many the previous year.
Nolan didn’t dispute that he missed votes.
But he styled them as procedural or votes for naming post offices and other mundane objectives.
“I was always there for the important votes,” Nolan said.
Cravaack criticized Nolan for supporting legislation creating the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), saying local lawmakers didn’t favor the bill.
Several times Cravaack depicted Nolan as beholden to Twin Cities environmentalists, an allegiance Cravaack said hurts progress in the district.
Nolan said he proudly sponsored the BWCA legislation — the BWCA has been a tourist magnet for the 8th District, he argued.
Nolan, too, slipped in a few criticisms of Cravaack.
“You might be for mining but you’re a company man, Chip,” Nolan said during an exchange on unions.
But Cravaack insisted that he had proved his union mettle as a striking union member by walking a picket line during an airline strike.
“I’m a pro-union Republican,” said Cravaack, a former airline pilot.
Nolan also faulted Cravaack for following a perceived policy of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires on the theory bolstering the top will improve the economy.
That’s incorrect, Nolan argued.
You create jobs by building up the middle class, Nolan argued.
They’re the people who go out and buy things, he argued.
Cravaack styled his buy-American-steel amendment an example of the pro-growth, pro-job agenda that he is pursuing.
On the question of gun control and recent shooting tragedies, both Nolan and Cravaack indicated support for gun owners’ rights.
Indeed, he bought his wife a 20-gauge shotgun on one birthday, a 30/30 rifle the next, Nolan said.
He plans to deer hunt Saturday before the election, he said.
One more law would not have prevented recent gun calamities, Cravaack argued.
Rather than limit access to firearms, an armed public could serve to stop shooting rampages from occurring, Cravaack argued.
Tuesday’s debate was sponsored by Debate Minnesota.