Richard Sennott/Star Tribune

Richard Sennott/Star Tribune

A sleepless Chip Cravaack reflected on the long journey to victory tucked in the back room of his small North Branch campaign office Wednesday afternoon.

Eighteen-term U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar had conceded the race minutes earlier at an emotional press conference in Duluth. 

“This was a warning. This was a warning to Congress that they better listen to the people,” Cravaack said. “Even [lawmakers] with 35 years of incumbency. If you don’t listen to your people, you will listen to them when they vote. And that’s what this was all about.”

The retired Northwest Airlines pilot and former Navy captain decided to run after visiting Oberstar’s office in August 2009 to request a town hall during the health care debate. He was told the congressman was too busy to see them.

“I’ve never run for political office. I never thought I’d ever be in political office,” Cravaack said. “I was very happily retired. So I just said my mission is to beat congressman Oberstar and that is what I set my sights on doing.”

In Congress, he hopes to secure a spot on the Education and Labor committee because of his background as a union steward and Master's Degree in Education. Or perhaps Oberstar's Transportation and Infrastructure committee, given he was a Federal Flight Deck Officer while with Northwest.

But what about earmarks, perhaps Oberstar’s biggest legacy? Cravaack was critical of earmarks during the campaign, but wasn’t ready to pledge not to request them Tuesday -- as the Republican Caucus has done. He didn't rule it out either.

“We have to reform that system,” he said, noting that projects should be given priority based on their merits, rather than a lawmaker’s seniority.

Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen are lending a hand in the transition. No phone calls yet from presumed future-Speaker of the House John Boehner, but the day isn’t over.

“There’s a conference call tonight for all the newbies.”

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