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Roles have reversed in Minnesota’s Eighth as Schultz resumes longshot bid

Ely Echo - Staff Photo -

For decades, Minnesota’s cavernous Eighth Congressional District was a stronghold for Democrats and little more than a pipe dream for Republicans.

The district produced veritable Congressional icons in the likes of the late John Blatnik and Jim Oberstar.

Although Oberstar’s career came to an ignominious end by way of an upset loss to unknown pilot Chip Cravaack, it took only two years for the U.S. House seat to return to DFL hands, with Rick Nolan serving for three terms.

The 2010s brought change, both to the makeup of the district and geographical shifts that brought in more Republican-friendly territory to the west and south, and the deep-blue Iron Range shifted as well with many souring on the party’s alliance with groups that attacked the region’s mining heritage and stood in the way of both existing mines and new mining ventures.

The rise of Donald Trump also played a role, and in 2016 Trump carried the Eighth by a once incomprehensible margin of 16 percentage points, while Nolan squeaked by Republican Stewart Mills by a mere 2,000 votes.

That was enough for Nolan, and two years later the Eighth turned red as Republican Pete Stauber of Hermantown won comfortably to become just the second Republican Congressman from the Eighth in half a century.

Stauber has become more entrenched since, winning both in 2020 and 2022 by healthy double-digit margins.

At least so far there’s little sign that Stauber, who unabashedly proclaims at every opportunity that he’s fighting for “our way of life,” is in any electoral trouble this year.

But that doesn’t seem to faze Democrat Jen Schultz or the legion of supporters who turned out in Duluth this week to cheer her on as she announced her bid to run again this year and seek a rematch of the race she lost handily in 2022.

Nolan, who told some dejected DFLers in Ely six years ago that he was being replaced by “a good man,” was at Schultz’s side Tuesday and offered a decidedly different take on Stauber.

In a fiery address, Nolan blasted Stauber on everything from his support of Trump to his votes in Congress.

Gov. Tim Walz was there too, touting his fellow Democrat’s skills and regaling the faithful with stories of Schultz’s negotiating prowess when she served several terms in the Minnesota House.

Walz, Nolan and Schultz all zeroed in on Stauber - particularly for the Republican lauding federal funding for the Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior.

Although Stauber was a longtime advocate for the project, he voted against the federal infrastructure bill that provided money for the project.

Democrats were quick to pounce, all but calling Stauber a hypocrite, but there’s more at play than meets the eye.

Stauber has defended his “no” vote, contending he couldn’t support other parts of the bill.

One can’t help but wonder  how Schultz might have voted on the same bill in Congress, if the funding for the bridge was linked to other poison pills such as restrictions to abortion or other issues near and dear to the Democrat rank-and-file.

Both sides are adept at this, whether it’s St. Paul or Washington, and the criticism of Stauber on the bridge issue seems just a bit off the mark.

Her campaign may be off the mark as well, or at least facing murky waters, given the current makeup of the Eighth.

It’s not the district Jim Oberstar presided over - not by a longshot.

Other than deep-blue Duluth and pockets here or there, it’s still a district won twice by Trump, who in all likelihood will be on the ballot again in November.

Stauber, meanwhile, has carved out an appeal that reaches much of the district.

Until proven otherwise, the roles have now been reversed and it’s Stauber who presides as Oberstar once did, and the Schultz campaign, at the moment, seems little more than a pipe dream.

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