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DFLers weigh crowded 8th District field

Amid a wide-ranging display of political ephemera -- a Jesse Ventura Reform Party sign; front pages of old Duluth newspapers on presidents Nixon, Carter, Johnson and Kennedy; copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence -- one group...

DFL caucus
Harmony McCullough and 9-month-old daughter Cora listen to the beginning of Democratic caucuses at Woodland Middle School on Tuesday. (Derek Montgomery / For the News Tribune)

Amid a wide-ranging display of political ephemera -- a Jesse Ventura Reform Party sign; front pages of old Duluth newspapers on presidents Nixon, Carter, Johnson and Kennedy; copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence -- one group of West Duluth Democrats met to talk about the issues in one of many precinct caucus meetings Tuesday at Denfeld High School.

Room 3312, Adam Shykes' history classroom by day, had a crying baby, passionate pleas for candidates, and heartfelt calls for resolutions for the DFL to consider.

Democrats met on the third floor, Republicans on the second. And while the main issue below them was the presidential race, Democrats debated the candidacies of those hoping to run against 8th Congressional District incumbent Chip Cravaack.

Politicians came and thanked caucus-goers for their work in the trenches.

"Democracy belongs to those who show up," State Rep. Kerry Gauthier told those from the Precinct 29 meeting in Sheri Johns' math room.

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"What does democracy look like?" Gauthier asked. "It's right here."

Gauthier urged voters to back Rick Nolan in the congressional straw vote.

"He gets working men and women," he said. "He gets the working poor."

Later, Jeff Anderson just rushed from caucuses in Duluth's east and central neighborhoods and was huffing and puffing when running down the corridor at Denfeld and popping in on precinct rooms.

"We really are running for office," he told those in Room 3313.

"Keep running," some of the 15 in the room shouted as he darted out.

Anderson got five votes from the precinct, topping the other names on the ballot. Nolan had three votes and Tarryl Clark had none.

Precinct 29 finished up ahead of the others after whisking through a series of expected resolutions it would like the party to consider, including: opposing the constitutional amendment vote in November that would exclude same-sex unions from the definition of marriage in the state, supporting cutting federal spending on the military, supporting ranked-choice voting in elections and opposing any measures to reduce the strength of unions in the state.

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Other rooms discussed the Supreme Court decision that loosened the rules for corporations in backing candidates and what Democrats might be up against come November.

Back in the history room and Precinct 31, the pre-vote pitches began. Anderson came in just as the convener asked if anyone would like to speak for a candidate. He said he was the best candidate in the race and thanked the 14 in the room for their "grass-roots" efforts.

Jeanne Erickson made a pitch for Rick Nolan, saying she likes all three of the main candidates but leans his way because of his experience. Nolan served three terms in Congress representing Minnesota's 6th District beginning in 1975.

"He knows how Washington works," she said. "He's the best chance to put our ideas to work."

Another caucus-goer spoke up for Anderson, saying his fear with Nolan is that his age (he's 68) and experience might work against him as Republicans compare him to the man Cravaack ousted, 18-termer Jim Oberstar.

Tony Salls was at his first caucus Tuesday. He ran unsuccessfully two years ago for District 7B state representative on the Independence Party ticket.

He said he is impressed with the organization of the DFL compared to his old party, one he says is "lost and nonexistent" in Duluth.

"This is good," Salls said of the evening. "It's educational."

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