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Reproductive Rights Was Central to Battle Between Dems in Minnesota Eighth District Primary Contest

Robin Marty

A surprisingly brutal Democratic primary is finished in the Minnesota 8th. Were allegations on abortion a turning point?

Minnesota Democrats had a battle of epic proportions in the newly drawn 8th district, where three heavily-entrenched candidates campaigned to face off against the highly vulnerable freshman Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack. 

Former Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan won the party endorsement, and had the backing of many local party leaders. Tarryl Clark, best known for challenging Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in 2010 didn’t let the endorsement stop her from taking the fight to the primary in the newly drawn 8th to first challenge Nolan with the intent of defeating Cravaack. With massive fundraising and a high profile, she brought with her some strong backing from national supporters, including an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton.

The intra-party contest became contentious once EMILY’s List sent a mailer on behalf of Clark. In it, they claimed that the DFL (Democratic Farmer Laborer) endorsed Nolan wasn’t strong enough on reproductive rights issues. “As a member of Congress, Rick Nolan failed to protect a woman’s right to choose, voting repeatedly in favor of limiting access to abortions for some low-income women,” read the Women Votes mailing, referring to Nolan’s early voting for the Hyde Amendment. The group then followed the mailing up with a television ad buy, too.

Nolan, on the other hand, had the state party to back him up as the campaign turned negative. DFL Chairman Ken Martin released a statement last week supporting Nolan and chastising Clark for her campaign’s aggressive hits.

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“Clark’s decision to go back on her word and attack Rick Nolan only hurts the primary winner’s chances of defeating Chip Cravaack this fall.  Starting a fight with another DFLer distracts from the real goal of making sure we take back this seat from Chip Cravaack, who’s done nothing to help create jobs and rebuild economic security for middle class families in the Eighth District, and who’s voted time after time against the people he was elected to represent.  The only way we’re going to defeat Cravaack is with a unified party and Clark’s ad makes that process more difficult. 

“Rick Nolan is an accomplished Minnesota leader of strong personal character.  So is Tarryl Clark. That’s why it is so unfortunate that Clark has chosen to steer this discussion away from the issues we need to address in Washington and toward the kind of negative attacks that Minnesotans are tired of seeing.”

The political group Women for Nolan rallied on his behalf as well, calling Nolan a “champion for women’s rights.”

Shame on Tarryl Clark and her outside Washington supporters. With outside money and distorted, negative attacks, they are attempting to tear down Rick Nolan’s well-earned reputation as a 30-plus year champion for women’s rights, for Planned Parenthood and for civil rights and human rights for all Americans. This is wrong.

Not being from the district, Tarryl is obviously unaware that this is not the way to do politics in the 8th Congressional District and in our DFL Party. Tearing down a good friend and Democrat is not the way to advance the cause of women’s health and women’s reproductive rights here in Minnesota and across our nation. Nor is it the way to beat Chip Cravaack and the Republicans in Congress.

Clark had name recognition, national backing, a huge fundraising advantage and extensive campaign resources. Nolan had two things that were far more important — residency and long time connections in district, and the backing of the party. In Minnesota, that often far outweighs anything else.

In the end, Nolan was victorious, garnering almost 39 percent of the vote to Clark’s 31 percent. Candidate Jeff Johnson took just under 30 percent.

Topics and Tags:

2012 Elections, Democrats, U.S. House

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