Democrats have lined up 3-deep in an attempt to defeat Chip Cravaack, who ousted 18-termer Jim Oberstar in 2010.
WASHINGTON - Since the day Chip Cravaack won election to the U.S. House in 2010, Democrats have set their sights on regaining the Eighth District seat he captured from 18-term U.S. Rep. James Oberstar.
National Republicans have responded in kind, calling on big names with big money -- such as House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor -- to support Cravaack's re-election campaign.
The money race shows that this contest -- with three Democratic challengers -- is shaping up to be the state's most hotly contested.
During the first quarter of 2012, one of the challengers, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, raised more money than Cravaack did, although he has more cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports posted this week.
"Incumbents typically don't have trouble when they need to raise money. He's vulnerable," said Kathryn Pearson, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who studies congressional elections and has experience working on Capitol Hill for Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
A Cravaack campaign adviser disputes that view. "He has shown that he has broad support from people across the district," said Ben Golnik. "People respond to his message."
Cravaack also still has the most money overall, with $629,000 on hand after raising $244,000 in the first quarter. Cantor's and Boehner's super PACs have contributed $10,000 each during the cycle.
Clark has $418,000 socked away after raising more than $314,000 during the quarter. Fellow Democrat and former U.S. Rep. Richard Nolan has about $40,500 banked after raising nearly $77,000, and Duluth City Council Member Jeff Anderson has $19,700 on hand after pulling in $65,000.
Thus far, Democratic money is coming from different sources.
Nolan represented the Sixth District, which then encompassed all of southwestern Minnesota, from 1975 to 1981 and still has connections on Capitol Hill. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and former Reps. Gerry Sikorski and Bill Luther, who both represented the Sixth District, are among at least eight current or former members of Congress who have donated $1,000 or more to Nolan.
Clark has relied on ActBlue, a fundraising website that aids Democratic candidates, and her network, which includes many out-of-state donors, developed during a 2010 campaign against Rep. Michele Bachmann in the Sixth District.
Thus far, Anderson's support has come from Minnesotans, except for several $1,000-plus donations from union political action committees.
Democrats in the Eighth District will endorse a candidate on May 5, but the fight to land on the November ballot will stretch on. Clark and Anderson said they will run in the August primary regardless of whether they're endorsed.
Money 'never hurts'
GOP officials are banking on Cravaack's eventual challenger to drain his or her resources in a primary fight, leaving Cravaack to stockpile for the post-Labor Day stretch run, said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Another race likely to draw national attention and funding is in the Sixth District, where Democrat Jim Graves, a hotel magnate and political newcomer, faces an uphill battle as a late entrant to the race against Bachmann.
Bachmann has $650,000 on hand as she seeks a fourth term, even though she still had debt from her presidential bid.
Graves, a self-made millionaire, donated $100,000 to himself to jump-start his campaign and won the party endorsement this past weekend. Ken Martin, the DFL party chair, expects donors to crop up as Graves begins to outline his campaign platform.
Until then, Graves will likely rely on his hefty bank account to finance the race. "It never hurts to have someone with some of their own resources to bring to the table," Martin said.
Bachmann raised more than $13 million to retain her seat in 2010 but is not on pace to raise that amount this election cycle.
On the Senate side, the challengers to Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar may find themselves at a financial disadvantage. The first-term senator has almost $5.2 million banked for her re-election campaign after raising $1 million in the first quarter.
The three Republicans looking to unseat her -- state Rep. Kurt Bills, former Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth and former state Rep. Daniel (Doc) Severson -- combined to raise roughly $260,000 during the same period. Hegseth had the biggest haul with $160,000.
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @StribMitchell