The state's most-watched primary contest this year is in the historically DFL-dominated Eighth District, where voters will decide which of three candidates will make the party's bid to reclaim the congressional seat from first-term GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack.
Many primary voters will attempt to judge which of the three is most likely to topple Cravaack -- former U.S. Rep. and party endorsee Rick Nolan, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, or former Duluth City Council member Jeff Anderson.
We hope they also consider which candidate has the best potential to provide the region and the nation with top-notch congressional service. It's on that basis that Clark gets our nod.
Unlike Nolan, 68, who last sat in Congress in 1980 representing a different corner of the state, and Anderson, 35, whose elective record consists of one term on the Duluth City Council, Clark at age 51 is in the prime of her political life. She practices a brand of politics akin to that of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- moderate, pragmatic, Minnesota-minded, people-focused.
A nonprofit attorney by profession, Clark was a standout as a state senator for five sessions, representing a St. Cloud district that had long been in Republican hands. She was elected deputy majority leader by her peers after just one year in office. She exhibited quick grasp of the complexities of the state budget, wide-ranging policy interests, and the pragmatism and interpersonal skills necessary to turn ideas into legislative action.
Much has been made -- too much, we'd say -- of Clark's decision to move to the Eighth District after failing in 2010 to unseat Sixth District Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann. Talent ought to matter more than residency when judging capacity for leadership.
Some DFL partisans fault Clark for running a poorly focused, insufficiently strategic campaign against Bachmann. That, too, we find overstated. Bachmann was riding high in 2010 as a founder and leader of the congressional Tea Party caucus and a potential presidential candidate. That Tea has cooled since then. Clark deserves a chance to demonstrate that she has gleaned the constructive criticism from the carping about her 2010 campaign, and can turn it to her advantage in 2012.
Each of Clark's two opponents would also be a worthy opponent for Cravaack. Anderson is a promising newcomer to politics outside Duluth. But he would face a steeper learning curve in Congress than would Clark, in part because he's too given to judging national policy questions for their impact on the Eighth District.
Nolan, who gave the old southwestern Minnesota Sixth District excellent representation in the 1970s, served when Democrats had unshakable control of the U.S. House and Washington politics was a much tamer game.
Of the three, Clark alone has shown that she can operate effectively in today's rough-and-tumble partisan lawmaking environment. That ought to count for much with primary voters.