RATINGS CHANGE: Minnesota’s 8th District

Posted June 27, 2013 at 5:27pm

Earlier this month, I wrote about a potential congressional candidate in Minnesota with shoulder-length hair and a “Brad Pitt kind of appeal.

That post did not go unnoticed.

As buzz grew about Republican Stewart Mills’ potential candidacy in the 8th District, Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan’s campaign started to come to life, according to local sources. First, the Nolan campaign referred to the Rothenblog story in a campaign plea.

“My challenger’s looks have been compared to Brad Pitt by a Politco [sic] reporter, but the truth is, he has some very extreme Tea Party views which are closely aligned with Michele Bachmann,” Nolan wrote in an emailed invitation to a Capitol Hill fundraiser, which was scheduled for Tuesday.

Nolan obviously meant CQ Roll Call, as  a quick search of Politico revealed that the publication hasn’t written about Mills at all.

The Nolan campaign also sent out invitations for a July 2 fundraiser at the Holiday Inn Express in Mountain Iron with former Rep. James Oberstar. One Democratic source pointed out the cost of the event ($100 for friends and $250 for supporters) is high for a typical event in the Iron Range. Nolan had a modest $199,000 on hand on his March 31 on FEC report.

In addition, Nolan’s district director has also been notably more visible in the last couple of weeks around the area, according to local sources.

This week, Mills’ potential challenge became real as the 41 year-old vice president of Mills Fleet Farm stores announced his candidacy.

A challenge from Mills is potentially serious because the district is competitive and the Republican has deep roots in the district that could win crossover votes.

The Democratic presidential nominee carried the 8th District with about 52 percent in the last three contests. But in 2010, Republican Chip Cravaack demonstrated that a Republican can win the district under the right circumstances when he defeated Oberstar in a very close race.

But 2014 doesn’t have to be a strong Republican year for Mills to win. Last year, Cravaack was consistently criticized for his family’s move to New Hampshire. That’s in contrast to Mills, whose grandfather started a chain of retail stores that are a staple in the region.

As a first time candidate, Mills will have a steep learning curve. And it remains to be seen how he aligns himself with the different factions of the Republican Party. But this race could turn into a headache for Nolan and national Democrats.

With Mills in the race, we are changing our view of the race from currently Safe Democrat to Lean Democrat in the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings.

And for the record, Mills told Minnesota Public Radio that he isn’t going to cut his hair (via Minnesota Politics in Stereo).