Outside money flowing into 8th district raceby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
KETTLE RIVER, Minn. — As Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack and his Democratic challenger former Congressman Rick Nolan face off in Minnesota's 8th District Congressional District race, special-interest groups are on track to outspend their campaigns.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, more than a dozen groups have spent $3.9 million to influence voters in the district, one of the most competitive in the nation.
"More of it's been spent opposing Chip Cravaack than Rick Nolan, although not a lot more," said Viveca Novak, the center's communications director. "It's like $2.1 million to $1.5 million. There have been a wide array of groups involved in the race."
The barrage of special interest money began flowing into the district shortly after Chip Cravaack took office in 2011, following his defeat of longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. Since then, their ads are a familiar presence on television screens.
"Chip Cravaack seems like a nice young man but on April 15, he voted to end Medicare," claims a television ad by the left-leaning group Americans for Change. It ran the TV ad after Cravaack voted for the first House GOP budget plan, which included big changes for Medicare.
Another of the group's ads tells viewers that Cravaack "voted again to replace Medicare's guaranteed benefits with private vouchers that won't cover the cost of care."
After Nolan won the DFL nomination to run against Cravaack in August, groups have weighed in on the other side, including former Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's American Action Network. Its ads attack Nolan.
"Remember the 70s?" one ad asks voters. "Disco was king and Rick Nolan was in Congress raising his own pay while attacking Medicare."
Novak said the Supreme Court's 2010 "Citizens United" decision and other recent court rulings led to the flood of outside spending. She said the battle in the 8th District ranks sixth in the nation in outside House race spending.
The ads and mailings are aimed at voters like 47-year-old Jane Morgan, who owns the Tower Tap Bar and Grille in Kettle River, about an hour southwest of Duluth.
It's a fairly decent bet that Morgan's customers don't agree on politics. Two years ago, Cravaack beat Oberstar by just one vote in Kettle River. That could explain why Morgan doesn't talk much about her own politics.
"This is a bar and I need to be very careful," she said.
Morgan is aware a lot of outside money is being thrown at the Cravaack- Nolan race, but she's convinced it's a waste.
"I would think that the special interests that are spending their money in this area might not be putting their money where it's best served, because, again, the discouragement overall is so much that I don't feel that they are going to get any new voters," she said. "I believe that some may not vote all together."
Also unimpressed is 29-year-old Nick Wright, one of Morgan's customers. He said he's received a lot of glossy campaign mail lately but doesn't look at them.
"They go right to the trash," he said.
Wright doesn't think the special interests and their millions are going are to sway very many people.
"There's so much that gets pushed down people's throats that they just get tired of it," he said. Wright plans to vote for Cravaack. But that doesn't mean he likes the negative tone against Nolan or anyone else.
"I think it's ridiculous trying to soil somebody else's name when you could basically turn around and say the exact same thing back," Wright said. "Tell me what you're going to do for me. Don't tell me what they said they were going to do and haven't."
Novak, of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the pace of outside expenditures will likely increase.
"It's going to get worse before it gets better, and the next election cycle could be worse yet," she said.
But if the voters in Kettle River are any indication, the millions in special interest money might be turning people off instead of rallying voters around a candidate.
- Morning Edition, 10/12/2012, 7:20 a.m.