In 2010, voters in northeast Minnesota's Eighth District didn't so much hire Republican upstart Chip Cravaack as they fired longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar.
By failing this year to run a next-generation candidate with an energetic plan for economic growth, state Democrats have made it clear that the party didn't get the message voters sent two years ago: We're ready for a change, and we want a candidate focused on local jobs instead of delivering federal pork, as Oberstar did so skillfully through the years.
Democrat Rick Nolan, a 1970s Minnesota congressman who is challenging Cravaack, comes across more as a keep-the-federal-dollars-flowing Oberstar replacement than as a creative, fiscally minded standard-bearer for the future. Cravaack, a conservative political neophyte, had a rocky takeoff in Washington with an amateurish appearance at a congressional hearing. But the former Northwest Airlines pilot has cannily found his cruising altitude and deserves another two years to prove himself to his traditionally Democratic district.
Cravaack has admirably bucked his party on labor and trade legislation -- prevailing wage protections, the Buy America Steel amendment-- that supported area industry and scored points with union members. The 52-year-old father of two is also praised widely around northeast Minnesota for his numerous town halls. He was quickly on the scene after Duluth's devastating flood and has voted against Republican measures to cut disaster aid in general.
Cravaack has a reputation as a Tea Party hardliner, but he's compiled a voting record that has led to vote-tracking organizations scoring him as a moderate among Minnesota's GOP delegation. Cravaack remains deeply conservative on issues such as abortion, but the heavily Catholic Eighth District skews the same way. To his credit, Cravaack is a low-key, rather than shrill, proponent of his social views.
The most disturbing part of Cravaack's record is his 2011 debt ceiling vote. With the nation on the brink of default, Cravaack went against his party's leadership and cast a reckless "no" vote because he didn't care for the deep spending cuts attached to the deal, particularly for defense. The nation will have to raise the debt ceiling again, and it's in dire need of a long-term debt reduction plan.
A fair, balanced deal that can pass both congressional chambers would contain provisions unpopular with both political parties. Cravaack needs to cast an adult vote next time to get a deal through. His approach to labor issues suggests that he is capable of compromise. "He's shown us he's willing to listen,'' said Jason George, legislative and political director for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, which has endorsed Cravaack.
Nolan, 68, would also be an able representative, though his reputation as an ultraliberal member of the 1970s Minnesota delegation raises questions about his own flexibility. Much has been made of Cravaack's family moving to New Hampshire, but he's stayed connected with his district. What matters most is the work he'd do in Washington. He's earned another shot, but he should also face a stronger Democratic challenger in 2014.
To read more of the Editorial Board's endorsements, go here.