Hotdish Politics: Cravaack one of just 35 who lost House seats

  • Updated: November 10, 2012 - 5:07 PM
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U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn. greets supporters at his headquarters in Hinckley, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

Photo: Andy King, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON - Of the 393 U.S. House members who ran for re-election this year, only 35 lost their seats.

Soon-to-be former congressman Chip Cravaack was one of them.

The retired airline pilot joins 14 other rookie U.S. House members booted by voters after just one term.

History shows that first-termers like Cravaack often are the most vulnerable, in part because they lack the advantages of incumbency that develop over time: clout, widespread name recognition and a reliable stable of campaign donors.

But Cravaack's short stint on Capitol Hill is a departure from the norm in Minnesota. Until former congressman Rick Nolan defeated Cravaack on Tuesday, no U.S. House incumbent from this state had lost his first re-election bid in more than 60 years.

Since the end of World War II, only two other House incumbents in the state have lost similar elections: Edward Devitt and George MacKinnon. Both men lost in 1948 -- Devitt to future U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy and MacKinnon to eventual six-term Congressman Roy Wier.

Despite the dubious distinction of being one-term wonders, Cravaack shares something else with Devitt and MacKinnon: All three were Republicans and U.S. Navy veterans. But that's where the similarities end.

Devitt and MacKinnon were St. Paul natives who went on to long careers in public service. President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Devitt as a U.S. District Court judge for Minnesota in the mid-1950s. MacKinnon went on to serve as U.S. attorney for Minnesota. After losing a 1958 gubernatorial bid, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., in 1969.

Cravaack has yet to reveal his plans for life after Congress, but it's quite possible they don't include Minnesota. His staff did not respond to an interview request.

As a West Virginia native who grew up in Ohio, Cravaack has little tying him to Minnesota other than his house in North Branch. The congressman's wife and children relocated to New Hampshire last year and he commutes regularly to join them.

It's unknown whether the retired pilot's stint in politics was long enough to score the kind of influential consulting, lobbying or teaching jobs that employ many former members of Congress once they leave office.

The man Cravaack defeated in 2010, 18-term incumbent Democrat Jim Oberstar, now splits his time between the Beltway and Minnesota, as a senior adviser for a D.C.-based consulting firm and visiting scholar at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Rebekah Harrick, an Oklahoma State University political science professor, has studied what members of Congress do when they leave the job. She found that while many former D.C. lawmakers work for government or interest groups, many more are likely to ditch career politics.

Soon after he defeated Oberstar, Cravaack pledged to serve no more than four terms in the U.S. House. This week, he'll head back to D.C. for Congress' lame duck session to finish off his first. He has yet to formally say whether it's his last.

  • One-term wonders

    President Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, newsman Joseph Pulitzer and 19th-century political operative William "Boss" Tweed are among the congressmen who served a single term in the U.S. House.

    The week ahead

    TUESDAY: Members of the U.S. House and Senate return to Washington, D.C., for the start of Congress' lame duck session. Averting the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in Jan.1, is a top priority.

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