Stunner: Minnesota's 8th CD in play; Update: "Great news, not surprising"

Or perhaps not so stunning, since Jim Oberstar has lived for almost 50 years in Washington DC rather than Minnesota’s 8th CD.  The working-class, union, and most importantly pro-life district in the northeastern part of the state has sent Oberstar to Congress for eighteen terms, and previous to that, Oberstar worked on Capitol Hill as a staffer since the Kennedy administration.  A new internal poll for Republican challenger Chip Cravaack puts the former Navy pilot and instructor into a virtual dead heat for the seat — and shows the voters in MN-08 ready for a change.

A polling memo from Public Opinion Strategies shows Oberstar in serious jeopardy of enforced retirement:

Congressman Jim Oberstar is obviously a well-known and popular figure in the 8th Congressional district, having held the seat since 1974. However, this survey indicates that this year, voters are ready to make a change. More voters prefer a new person (48%) than think Oberstar deserves re-election (40%). This sentiment is more pronounced among the voters who are up-for-grabs in November. Independents prefer a new person by 49%-35%, and among those who are undecided in the Congressional race want a new person by 50%-19%.

Further, when voters are informed that Oberstar is 76 years old and has worked in Congress for nearly 50 years as a Representative and a staffer, the preference for a new person climbs to 52%.

The survey shows Cravaack trailing Oberstar just three points, 42/45, within the poll’s margin of error.  Furthermore, the 45% showing for a long-term and heretofore popular incumbent is a big red flag for Democrats.  Oberstar has been a fixture in the Iron Range for decades and a towering political figure.  A failure to get to 50% four weeks before the election is a sign that those who know him best have lost confidence in his ability to represent them properly.  Even more stunning, Cravaack has an outright majority among those who show the highest enthusiasm for this election (52%).

The turning point probably came when Oberstar not only defied his proclaimed attachment to pro-life principles and voted for ObamaCare, but when he actively lobbied members of the Bart Stupak caucus to do the same.  His claims to moderation and independence vanished with that vote and linked him inextricably with the radical agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama — and that’s a bad turn of events in MN-08.  Obama has a 40% approval rating in this district after winning it in 2008 with 53% of the vote, and Pelosi’s is a scant 27%.  Having hitched his star to those wagons, it’s small wonder that Oberstar finds it in a ditch, to borrow one of our President’s favorite metaphors.

If Democrats lose MN-08, they may lose MN-07 (R+, incumbent Democrat Colin Peterson) and perhaps MN-01 (R+1, incumbent Democrat Tim Walz) as well.  Neither of those incumbents have the political clout or history of Oberstar, and their constituencies are similar to Oberstar’s MN-08 (D+3) — rural, conservative, and probably very angry with the direction that their representatives have taken.

I’ll be on a conference call with the Cravaack campaign at noon CT, and will update this post with the highlights.

Update: Cravaack calls this “great news, but not surprising.”  He has been doing a lot of retail politicking, and he hears that constituents really want change.  “Oberstar has lost touch with us.”  With messaging, Cravaack says those numbers change to a 47/41 lead for Cravaack.  ObamaCare is less of an issue than cap-and-trade, according to Chip’s analysis, which makes sense in this mining district.

The poll started off by asking voters to choose one of the candidates, and then walked through the messaging.  This is important, because otherwise that first number — the 42/45 — would have been a result from a push poll.  The polling is therefore more reliable on the first number than potentially in the second, but it’s the first number that the campaign is highlighting.

I asked Chip whether this poll would mean that he would get more national assistance, but Chip says he really doesn’t need it.  The local organization has done a great job so far and that he has a ground game ready to go.  Another questioner says that the DCCC may descend on the district to rescue Oberstar through a huge negative attack-ad campaign, and that Chip may need the assistance from the NRCC to fend it off.  Chip would prefer to be seen as a local candidate with local activists, but notes that the bloggers on the call are all outside of his district, too.  “Bloggers rule,” he said with a laugh.