ST. PAUL, Minn. - An autism advocate accused Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack on Monday of revealing his son's autism to get sympathy as he faces questions about his Minnesota ties in a tight congressional race.
Wayne Rohde of the Autism Advocacy Coalition of Minnesota said Cravaack has done little in Washington regarding autism issues. Rohde said Cravaack hasn't joined a bipartisan congressional autism caucus or been active in supporting a federal push for insurance coverage of autism treatments.
"I truly believe it was used to try to gain sympathy and deflect any questions about his residency issue," he said.
The first-term incumbent disclosed his son's condition last week after Democratic challenger Rick Nolan began running a TV ad claiming Cravaack doesn't live in Minnesota. Cravaack said his wife and children moved to New Hampshire so his autistic son would have more time with his mother, who works in the Boston area. Cravaack lives in North Branch, in the southern part of the 8th District.
Rohde, who lives outside the 8th District in Woodbury, described himself as a Republican who isn't politically active. He contacted both campaigns Saturday and heard back from Nolan campaign manager Mike Misterek, who Rohde said asked if he would be willing to release his story to the media.
Misterek said he called Rohde to acknowledge his message.
"I don't think this is a political thing at all," Misterek said.
Campaign adviser Ben Golnik said Cravaack was being honest in disclosing how his son's autism affected the family's move, calling the contact between Nolan's campaign and Rohde "a disgusting new low."
Golnik also noted that Cravaack is a former stay-at-home dad who was heavily involved in his sons' school district.
Nolan's side has said the residency issue is valid since Cravaack questioned former Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar's ties to the district two years ago.
The contest in northeastern Minnesota is one of the nation's top House races, with more than $7.6 million spent by the national parties and other outside groups.