Monday, June 02, 2008 By Aaron Brown
Oberstar has represented Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District since 1974. This district includes Oberstar's native Iron Range, Duluth, the whole Northeastern corner of the state, a large portion of the eastern midsection and the far northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. It's a vast, DFL-leaning, but volatile district that Oberstar has dominated electorally as a governing liberal and social conservative. He's been doing this so long that even the hint that he might take another job leaves huge questions about who could step up to take his place.
Now, before we get crazy, let's consider a few disclaimers. First, Rahall is vice-chair of Oberstar's
committee and stands to gain a lot if Oberstar moves up to SecTrans. Secondly, every time there is a presidential election there is talk that if the Democrats win Oberstar might be transportation secretary. This kind of speculation is aided greatly by actual victory. Third, Oberstar would have to consider whether taking a job in the executive branch is worth abandoning his high powered committee chairmanship. He might not be interested.
That said, being Secretary of Transportation would be the ultimate feather in the cap for Oberstar, 73, whose career in the House has spanned 34 years. If offered, he'd have to consider it and might take the job. If he did, we'd see a free for all on both sides of the aisle to replace him.
Here is the situation facing any candidate in that situation.
1) It would be a special election held after, if Obama wins, what would have been a strong Democratic year. That means the Democrats have to switch from offense to defense, where we should expect a little rust after 8 years of yelling "no blood for oil" at poetry slams. Also, special elections have different voting patterns that are harder to predict. This mix of factors will make the race unpredictable. The more candidates and money, the more unpredictable it would become.
2) The 8th goes 65-35 for Oberstar because of Oberstar, not necessarily because it's liberal. Famously, Rod Grams carried the district in 1994 against Ann Wynia. Yes, it's solid DFL, but the wrong candidate makes it a toss up.
3) This seat is usually considered to be the "Iron Range/Duluth" seat, but the district's population base has shifted to the south. This area, and its potential candidate(s) will be a big factor in any endorsement/primary situation.
4) Oberstar will want to be comfortable with his successor.
5) Oberstar dominates, in part, because he can always point to specific transportation projects that he delivered to the district and state. Everyone loves roads. What will be the next candidate(s) hook as they make their pitch for votes? Remember, the winner becomes #435 in House seniority, which means an office in the janitor's closet and a chief of staff who couldn't get a job with the other 434 members.
6) Most insiders know that Minnesota will probably lose a Congressional district in 2012 after the 2010 census. This means that if someone succeeds Oberstar before '12, they may face a tough situation if their district is combined with that of an entrenched incumbent or ideologically differing voters.
So, MinnesotaBrown and MNBlue contributors? Who do you see waiting in the wings in this big district? I have names in mind, but I want to know what you think. I'll share my thoughts in a follow-up after I hear your suggestions.
Aaron Brown runs MinnesotaBrown and occasionally shares posts with the MNBlue community.