Minn. 8th's House Candidates Clash Over Medicare
The Republican incumbent in the U.S. House race for a northeastern Minnesota seat says GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare overhaul is the only way to save the program for future retirees.
Meanwhile, the Democratic challenger considers the plan an anathema that would end the government health care program in its current form.
Wednesday's clash over Medicare and other issues came as Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack and Democratic opponent Rick Nolan kicked off their race for the seat Cravaack won in a big upset two years ago.
Nolan emerged the winner over two rivals in Tuesday's Democratic primary, energized but short of cash. The 8th District race could play nationally as Democrats try to overturn the Republican House majority and has already attracted more than $500,000 in spending by outside groups.
Cravaack, a conservative freshman portraying himself as a centrist, said Ryan is "one of those go-to guys" on the budget whose selection by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney left him "truly impressed."
"This is how we are going to save Medicare for future generations and also maintain the type of protection for our current seniors," Cravaack said of Ryan's Medicare plan during a news conference at his campaign headquarters in North Branch, about 45 miles north of the Twin Cities.
Nolan vowed to defend Medicare in its current form. He said the Ryan plan, which proposes shifting future retirees to private plans, would tamper with "earned benefits that people started paying for the first hour of the first day they went to work."
"They're not going to do away with either Social Security or Medicare on my watch," he told The Associated Press in an interview.
The Medicare debate signals a larger theme in the race, with Nolan casting himself as the defender of government benefits and Cravaack attacking him as a big spender.
"He's a bigger government, increased spending, more taxes, more regulation type of mentality, where I believe that we should unleash the power of the small business owner and private sector," Cravaack said of Nolan, who served in Congress from 1975 to 1981.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Katie Prill attacked Nolan as an "out of touch left-wing liberal" who "thinks Jimmy Carter was a conservative."
Nolan emphasized his background as a "fourth-generation native of this district" with a "pretty darn good feel for what people want and what they expect." But he said he won't make an issue of Cravaack's family moving to New Hampshire last year, saying the race should focus on policy differences.
Cravaack said his record in Washington - including efforts to require more American steel in building projects and faster approval of precious metals mining projects - fits the pro-labor, blue-collar district. In a fundraising email to supporters, he talked up his own "non-partisan, common sense, and pro-growth approach to job creation."
Cravaack told reporters he won't make a career of Congress like his predecessor, 18-term Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar, and pledged to serve no more than eight years. He then embarked on a tour of the district in an old camper wrapped with his photograph and campaign logo.
Nolan headlined a Duluth news conference with primary rivals Tarryl Clark and Jeff Anderson before hitting the phones to raise money. He said he needs at least $1 million after an expensive primary. He had just $88,000 to spend three weeks before the primary, while Cravaack was sitting on more than $900,000 last month.
Since then, Nolan has reported raising another $22,000 in large donations, while Cravaack has pulled in $26,500. They will reveal details of their spending in campaign reports due in mid-October.
Democratic allies have spent more than $200,000 to attack Cravaack so far. More independent spending is expected, with Minnesota GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge predicting both parties will invest heavily in the contest.
"For the other side to have any chance of taking back the majority, they're going to have to win that seat," Shortridge said.
One voter couldn't wait to challenge Cravaack on Medicare. Carol Newmann, a 77-year-old retiree from Rush City, jumped up at the end of Cravaack's news conference to ask him about his stance on the issue.
Newmann, a Democrat, said she relies on Medicare and wants to know if it will be there for her children approaching retirement age.
"I want to see Medicare fixed," Newmann told Cravaack.
"Nobody's going to mess with your Medicare," the incumbent said.
"I don't see anybody working together. It's just very frustrating to me," Newmann said.
Cravaack urged the Democratic-controlled Senate to vote on House-passed legislation and referred Newmann to his congressional office for help with her concerns.
After the exchange, Newmann said Medicare "needs some fixing" but that she doesn't like Ryan's overhaul proposal. She said she plans to volunteer to help Nolan.
Associated Press writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report from St. Paul.
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