Cravaack ousts veteran Oberstar in 8th District Congressional race
Northeastern Minnesota will be represented by a Republican in Congress for the first time since 1947 as challenger Chip Cravaack upset longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar in unofficial returns tallied early today.
Oberstar, a Democrat from Chisholm, watched an early lead dwindle throughout the night, and, in the end, Cravaack won 48 percent of the vote to Oberstar's 47, with a spread of about 4,200 votes between them out of more than 270,000 cast.
Oberstar walked into his election night party in Duluth predicting " a good night, a good victory."
But in Oberstar's 36 years in Congress, it was the Democrat's toughest race.
"There was a national wave this year, a national resistance," he said. "I knew it would be a difficult election."
It was difficult because it was a transformative year, as the country emerged from the biggest recession since the Great Depression.
"It's not that the opponent was tough, it's that these organizations were tough," he said of special interest groups that opposed him.
Cravaack and his supporters gathered at Tobies Restaurant in Hinckley.
"It's a miracle what we've done," Cravaack told supporters early Tuesday evening, even before returns showed him closing the gap and then overtaking Oberstar.
Cravaack left when most precincts were still uncounted, but his supporters remained, greeting the ups and downs of precinct-by-precinct results with a mix of delight, quiet study or a smattering of wild cheers.
Jerry Kortesmaki of Duluth said he jumped on the Cravaack bandwagon in January after having trouble getting his message through to Oberstar.
"I made up my mind it's time to change my congressman," he said. "All I kept hearing from people is that this was not a race, this was not a race. It is a race. I'm in this for the long haul. There's no backing down."
Oberstar faced constituents angered about federal bailouts, stimulus spending and health care reform, which he supported and was forced to defend during the campaign. He routinely pointed to road, bridge and other big Northland projects made possible by stimulus dollars and the long-term advantages of health care reform.
"I know people are angry and disappointed," said Julie Jeatran of Duluth's Lincoln Park. "They want things to happen, and they want them to happen right away. They want the war to be over, and they want more jobs. But these things take time. The Republicans drove us into this ditch, and it's going to be a bumpy ride on the way out. I just don't think it makes sense to hire the same people who drove us into the ditch to get us out."
But never before has Oberstar gotten less than 59 percent of the vote.
Cravaack's call for fiscal responsibility in Washington and for financial restraint struck a cord with frustrated independents and the Tea Party as well as Republicans. Cravaack, 51, of Lindstrom, is a former Navy captain and a retired Northwest Airlines pilot.
"I felt we needed a change," said Astrid Shykes of Duluth who voted for Cravaack at Woodland Community Center in Duluth. "It's the state of the whole country. Our country is in a bad way. It's no time to be spending."
One indication of Oberstar's challenge this year was his relatively weak showing in the city of Duluth. Oberstar managed 78 percent of the vote in Duluth in 2008, and 72 percent in 2006 against former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams. But this year Oberstar managed only 63 percent within the city against Cravaack.
Staff writer John Myers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
784 of 804 precincts - 98 percent
Chip Cravaack, GOP 131,668 - 48 percent
James Oberstar, Dem (i) 127,491 - 47 percent
Timothy Olson, Inp 11,695 - 4 percent
George Burton, CST 2,368 - 1 percent