'Back to work' says Nolan after defeating Mills in 8th District race
By Wednesday morning, Rep. Rick Nolan was saying, "Now, it's back to work." He'd just fended off a stiff challenge in the 8th Congressional District election from retail heir Stewart Mills, winning 48.5 percent of the vote to Mills' 47.1, accordi...
By Wednesday morning, Rep. Rick Nolan was saying, “Now, it’s back to work.”
He’d just fended off a stiff challenge in the 8th Congressional District election from retail heir Stewart Mills, winning 48.5 percent of the vote to Mills’ 47.1, according to election results from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.
But before the Democratic incumbent could return to work, Nolan shared a concessionary phone call from the Republican challenger Mills.
“Mr. Mills ran a hard-fought campaign, and despite our differences I have great respect for anyone who is willing to fight for what they believe,” Nolan said in a statement roughly 15 hours after the polls first closed, inciting a tense numbers crunch of 810 precincts that went on into the early morning.
At 1 a.m., the lights were on and people milled about in the Aitkin County Courthouse along Minnesota Highway 210.
Aitkin was one of 11 counties won by Mills, compared to Nolan’s seven county wins. Nolan won despite getting fewer votes (128,869) than Jim Oberstar did in his landmark loss to Chip Cravaack in 2010 (133,490 to 129,901). That race ended Oberstar’s streak of 18 straight terms and seems to forever have made a see-saw out of the 8th District.
“Nolan won but he could have lost,” said Aaron Brown, a Hibbing Community College professor, author, and political blogger. “Every two years, it’s never going to be that somebody has it in the bag. Those days are done. Most DFLers know there were a few lucky breaks involved.”
Brown noted how Nolan rallied in the last week by doing what he said Nolan does best – face-to-face retail campaigning.
“His (voter) turnout operation saved what could have been a worse situation,” Brown said of Nolan’s week-long “Middle Class Express” road rally aboard a coach bus. “Nolan developed a passionate closing argument.”
Mills, Brown said, seemed to connect on a media level but not a personal one.
“When Cravaack lost (to Nolan) in 2012, people were crying at the party,” Brown said. “There’s a big difference in passion in what the Republicans showed for Chip Cravaack and what they were showing for Mills.”
Cravaack won the exurbs big in 2010, but Mills seemed to leave votes on the table. He garnered more than 2,000 fewer votes in Chisago County than Cravaack did in carrying it in the historic 2010 race. Mills lost Pine County by 40 votes to Nolan, whereas Cravaack had made it Republican territory.
“While we ultimately weren’t successful,” Mills said in statement on the loss. “I think this race brought up a lot of issues that matter to the voters. It is my sincere hope that Congressman Nolan works over the next two years to address the real concerns that many people in our part of Minnesota have brought up over the last year, and that he works to represent every voice in the 8th District.”
Both candidates set a respectful tone after a race that was defined, in part, by its negative ad campaigning.
“All the negativity came from national buys,” Brown said of an election that garnered $12.5 million in outside money. “It wasn’t even what Nolan wanted out of the messaging.”
Nolan said late on election night that when he grew his weariest in the miles between campaign events, the crowds restored him.
“It’s a combination where you have a lot of people counting on you and it just has a tremendous effect on me in picking up my resilience to be worthy of the expectations they have,” Nolan said.
Nolan’s closing arguments struck notes about restoring the middle class.
“We were blue-collar, middle class,” he said of his family growing up in Crosby, Minn. “But as far as we were concerned we were rich.”
He said that in returning to Washington, D.C. he intends to support good jobs and continuing to make health care and higher education more affordable.
In getting back to work, he also talked about bolstering a minimum wage that he said “had two and three times more value in my youth than it does today.”