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Down to the wire on campaigning for 8th Congressional District seat

Watching a campaign for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District seat is usually about as interesting as watching a rerun of a football game after being told the final score.

Oberstar campaigns
Rep. Jim Oberstar (right) listens during a campaign stop to GeaCom chief operating officer Chris Butler while Butler gives a presentation of the Phrazer medical device at the company's Duluth office on Saturday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Watching a campaign for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District seat is usually about as interesting as watching a rerun of a football game after being told the final score.

Normally, if there's any drama at all, it's learning Rep. Jim Oberstar's margin of victory over his Republican challenger. Oberstar has been elected 18 times, and he never received less than 59 percent of the vote.

"There have been a lot of congressional candidates that we've kind of known it was not going to happen," said Barry Bergquist of

Cloquet, who was Republican chairman of the 8th District in the early 1980s.

There was a different feeling this time around as both Oberstar and his GOP rival, Chip Cravaack, campaigned Saturday in the final weekend before the election.

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Cravaack's campaign was trumpeting a poll released Friday that suggested the election is a dead heat. The KSTP-TV/Survey USA poll showed Oberstar with 47 percent, Cravaack with 46 percent. The margin of error was 3.9 percent.

Cravaack, 51, was quick to bring it up as he spoke to about 35 supporters outside of Bergquist's Cloquet store early on Saturday.

"The reason why I'm here today is because of you guys," Cravaack told the crowd, most of whom would be staffing the phone banks inside Bergquist's building starting at 9 a.m.

"I'm sure you've all seen the latest poll," Cravaack said, before citing the numbers

"We're behind," someone said, to laughter.

"Let's get ahead," Cravaack responded.

While Cravaack's brief Cloquet visit was the start of traveling across a large swath of the sprawling district, Oberstar spent all of

Saturday in Duluth, meeting with progressive leaders, small-business owners and nonprofit organizations and touring GeaCom, a high-tech startup company in Canal Park.

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Seven of GeaCom's 13 employees were present for Oberstar's visit. Jim Berard of the Oberstar campaign acknowledged that in terms of retail politics, Oberstar's time could have been better spent outside in Canal Park, shaking hands with voters. But Oberstar had long wanted to visit GeaCom, which makes a multilingual device to help health professionals evaluate patients.

"He eats this stuff up," Berard said.

The easily recognizable congressman was greeted by several supporters during an interview earlier in the day at Jitter's coffee shop in downtown Duluth.

When he learned that a man wearing a Randy Moss jersey was a member of the Mille Lacs Band, Oberstar said, "Oh, you're Mille Lacs. Marge Anderson's back as chair, and she's doing a wonderful job."

"Wonderful," the man agreed. "So are you."

Oberstar professed to be unconcerned by the Survey USA poll. "That poll has been consistently wrong," he said, adding that in several elections it awarded Republicans a larger percentage of the vote than they actually received.

Internal polling by the Oberstar campaign shows previously undecided voters turning to Oberstar by a 3-to-1 margin, he said. "I am delighted with the way things are going."

But he acknowledged the angry mood of the electorate.

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"There was this period of anger stirred up by the Tea Party," he said, later adding: "Sure there is voter unrest. This is the year for it."

In an interview aboard Cravaack's "war wagon," a recreational vehicle displaying a much-larger-than-life picture of the candidate, Cravaack said he knew nothing about the Survey USA poll until a reporter called him Friday evening.

"We were surprised about the poll, but we weren't surprised by the results because we had done our own polling, and it just basically validated our own poll," Cravaack said.

Cravaack said Oberstar's votes on the health-care reform bill, federal stimulus spending and the energy bill show he's out of touch with the district.

"He might be a senior member (of Congress), but he's definitely not voting for us," Cravaack said.

Oberstar disagreed, saying most of the opposition came not from the people he represents but from special interests.

"I was certain in my mind and my judgment and my reading that those were the right votes to take," Oberstar said. "And I expected that there would be backlash from the interests that we disrupted."

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Cravaack campaigns
Chip Cravaack, the Republican candidate in the 8th Congressional District race, makes a get-out-to-vote call from a phone bank in Cloquet on Saturday. Cravaack is in a tight race with incumbent Jim Oberstar. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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