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Dollars, debate fuel stretch run in 8th District race

Rep. Rick Nolan (left) and Stewart Mills

With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, the race for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District seat appeared to reach fever pitch with developments this week.

The rematch between Democratic incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills will, rather suddenly, feature another debate on Sunday. The candidates will meet in St. Paul for a debate on KSTP-TV that also will air live in the Northland from 6-6:30 p.m. on sister station WDIO-TV.

Additionally, the race that already was one of the most expensive in the country surpassed independent contributions of $8 million this week. A super PAC founded by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman was responsible for a large part of it, dealing out more than $688,000 to repeatedly air a television advertisement aimed at Nolan.

The ad began to air Tuesday in the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth media markets, and is part of $2.2 million spent by the Congressional Leadership Fund in total on the 8th District campaign. The CLF super PAC also is plunging $300,000 into "door-to-door activities" — all of its money intended to paint Nolan as "self-serving," according to a CLF news release.

Both candidates, in interviews with the News Tribune this month, expressed being livid over what they say are baseless ads aimed at submarining their campaigns and twisting their messages.

"A wide variety of his ads are just false and untrue," Nolan said of Mills. "He says I would allow unlimited numbers of terrorists into the country and that's not true. I supported the SAFE Act, and it would take several years to get through that process."

Nolan did, in fact, vote for the SAFE Act in 2015 before it was rejected by the Senate earlier this year; it would have required deeper investigation into Syrian and Iraqi refugees attempting to enter the United States.

Mills was equally defensive about ads targeting him.

"They have an ad against me that I want to privatize Social Security and Congressman Nolan says I am for privatizing Social Security and he is lying," Mills said. "... I'm willing to have everybody put all ideas on the table and come up with bipartisan agreement. ... You're not going to be able to preserve Social Security and Medicare without bipartisanship."

Certainly the candidates will attempt to right any grievances on Sunday during a half-hour debate that sprang up within the past 10 days, when Mills agreed to meet Nolan in a St. Paul television studio. Nolan campaign spokesman Bennett Smith said the congressman had been expecting 15 minutes of solo airtime until Mills agreed to join the stage.

The candidates have debated only once previously this fall — that coming in Duluth in September, when they sparred for an hour over the affections of the middle class.

The most recent CLF super PAC-sponsored TV attack on Nolan attempts to establish him as having failed U.S. military veterans.

Within 24 hours, Nolan appeared to counter that when he urged the secretaries of Defense and the Army to restore full funding for the Minnesota National Guard's Military Funeral Honors Program. A federal funding cut of about $400,000 faced by the Minnesota National Guard puts the program at risk, Nolan said in a news release. The News Tribune reported on the cut earlier this month.

"Our brave patriots put their lives on the line for us and we owe more than can ever be repaid," Nolan said in a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning. "... it is a disservice to them and our veterans' families to cut their funding."