Cravaack struggled with debt ceiling voteby Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio
Duluth, Minn. — This week's debt ceiling vote in Congress was particularly agonizing for U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.
Cravaack, a freshman Republican, bucked his party's leaders Monday and voted against a compromise deal that would raise the nation's borrowing authority, while trimming some spending. Cravaack said the cuts didn't go far enough.
Last week, he opposed a more conservative version of this bill, one that was sponsored by House Speaker John Boehner and Republican leaders.
"Friday was the hardest vote," Cravaack said after the bill passed the House Monday evening. "I think they understood that if I didn't vote for the bill on Friday then I probably wasn't going to vote for the bill today."
He opposed this week's bill as well.
"I hope it works, I truly do. For the country, I hope it works," Cravaack said. "I hope I'm totally wrong in what I'm thinking, I hope I'm totally off-mark because that means this is going to work."
While Cravaack's vote may have alienated him from the GOP establishment and cost him key national Republican financial support, it also could energize his supporters. He could have a tough fight in his bid for re-election in the 8th District, where Democrats are already lining up against him.
Cravaack won a stunning victory over longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar last November by running on a Tea Party brand of fiscal conservatism. Many of his backers were pleased to see him stay true to his campaign with his debt ceiling vote.
Virginia resident Rich Soderberg, who calls himself an independent voter, is among them.
"I admired his courage for standing up for what he believes is the correct course of action," Soderberg said.
Soderberg, an administrator at a taconite mine, voted for Cravaack last November.
So did Brad Jensen, a retired U.S. Air Force officer from Bruno. Cravaack's vote is exactly what Jensen said he sent him to Washington to do: shake up the status quo.
"I think he stuck by his guns," Jensen said. "It was a painful vote, I know, but I think he did the right thing." Wy Spano, a political analyst at the University of Minnesota Duluth, also feels Cravaack's stand was the right political move.
"In this case, this vote helps him with his base and his funding," said Spano, co-director of the Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program at UMD. "He gets to continue to appeal to the true believers in the deficit reduction world. And that attracts money."
Cravaack expects to face stiff challenge in 2012 in this traditionally Democratic-leaning district. He plans to launch his reelection campaign early in response to several television attack ads, including one criticizing his handling of the debt ceiling debate.
The liberal national group Americans United for Change paid for one of the ads, in which an announcer tells viewers, "Congressman Chip Cravaack and the Republicans in Congress are driving us toward the end of a cliff, recklessly risking default, recklessly risking jobs and the American economy."
That's a sentiment shared by Dean Casperson, a small business owner in Duluth who also happens to be one of Cravaack's conservative supporters.
"I agreed with his principle that we needed to cut more," said Casperson, incoming chairman of the local chamber of commerce. "But had we defaulted, it would have been catastrophic for the country. At some point you've got to compromise."
In Duluth at least, compromise is not yet a dirty word in politics. Mayor Don Ness and the city council boast approval ratings unheard of among members of Congress. They say it's because they've come together to make tough but necessary budget decisions.
Councilman Tony Cuneo, who is leaving office soon, said it's not so much Cravaack's vote against the debt ceiling bill that upsets him, but the decision-making process.
"We've had plenty of ferocious debates at a local level, but it is possible for politicians to act reasonably," Cuneo said. "It's been frustrating to watch how unreasonably members of Congress have been acting, and I would include Congressman Cravaack in that."
Despite the angst surrounding the debt-ceiling vote, Cravaack's no vote may not influence voters.
That's because after so much last-minute haggling over the bill, it's hard to determine who the winners and losers are, Spano said.
"My guess is that from a strategic standpoint, from a campaign strategy standpoint, this vote may not be as big a deal because the public's going to be a little bit confused about who's on what side," he said.
In a district that has long benefited from federal spending, Cravaack's fortunes will instead likely hinge on whether voters think he supports too large a cut to government spending, Spano said.
--- Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brett Neely contributed to this story.
- Morning Edition, 08/03/2011, 7:20 a.m.