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Clark makes most of ties to Minnesota's 8th District

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democrat Tarryl Clark is trying hard to counter the impression that she lacks ties to northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District, after moving to Duluth months after she lost to Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2010’s most expensive U.S. House race.

The former state senator is the best-funded of three Democrats vying to challenge GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack, a top Democratic target who unseated 18-term Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar two years ago in what had long been considered safe blue territory. Before new political maps were even drawn, Clark chose to move and run in the 8th District, rather than stay in the 6th District and face Bachmann again.

Cravaack has had his own residency issues to explain after his family moved to New Hampshire during his first term. He lives in North Branch when he’s not in Washington and visits his family on Sundays.

“That’s the least of his challenges,” Clark said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “But again, I’ve lived in and worked in and throughout the region for 24 years.”

Clark said her St. Cloud house sits just outside the 8th District boundaries. She said her work as a church volunteer, nonprofit administrator, lawyer and politician has given her “deep and long ties” to central and northeastern Minnesota. Clark now lives in a leased condominium in Duluth while her husband remains in St. Cloud. She said they’re not trying to sell their home or buy a new one in Duluth because “we’re not deep-pocketed people.”

Clark lost to Bachmann in 2010 by more than 12 percentage points in Minnesota’s conservative 6th District after raising $4.7 million. Bachmann raised $13.5 million.

Clark’s current primary opponents, former Rep. Rick Nolan and former Duluth City Council President Jeff Anderson, are emphasizing deep roots in a district that reaches from the northern Twin Cities suburbs to the Canadian border.

Clark characterized Anderson as inexperienced and claimed Nolan has spent considerable time out of state. She claimed her work and volunteer experience makes her the one with the best connections across the entire district, even better than the incumbent’s.

“One of the real strengths I bring not just to the race but to the office will be having worked throughout the whole district. Congressman Cravaack obviously has been hit for his family being in New Hampshire. Rick has certainly lived in Florida a good chunk of the last 10 years. Jeff is newer to all of this,” Clark said.

Spokesman Steve Johnson said Nolan, who lives on the Cuyuna Range in north-central Minnesota and served in the House from 1975 to 1981, has occasionally vacationed in Florida but is “a son of the 8th District.” Nolan has the backing of the party and Oberstar.

Anderson has served on boards and commissions throughout the district and was a member of the Duluth City Council when Clark moved to town, spokesman Nate Dybvig said.

Clark said her fundraising advantage makes her the only Democrat able to compete with Cravaack in a race expected to garner a lot of independent spending by outside groups. At the end of March, Clark had $418,000 in the bank, compared with $40,000 for Nolan and $20,000 for Anderson. Clark is backed by Emily’s List, a national network that helps female candidates who support abortion rights, and draws on her fundraising experience from the race against Bachmann, who went on to run unsuccessfully for president.

“We’re going to be the only ones who are able to be proactive and get the word out,” said Clark, who said she spends 20 hours a week raising money and has already run radio ads on the Iron Range and in Grand Rapids.

Clark has six full-time campaign staffers, compared with four to five for Nolan and five for Anderson.

In the interview, Clark gave the impression of an energetic candidate highly plugged into campaign details. When her campaign manager, Joe Fox, mentioned she had raised $320,000 to meet a threshold to show her candidacy’s seriousness to national Democrats, she quickly corrected him, saying: “321.”

Clark focused mainly on Cravaack, accusing him of having done little to create jobs for a region that desperately needs them. She attacked him on one of his priorities, the development of precious metals mining on the Iron Range, saying he hasn’t done anything substantive to advance the project.

“What jobs has he created? He’s helped to do nothing in the district,” Clark said.

Cravaack’s congressional spokesman, Michael Bars, said the representative created an advisory panel involving local, state, federal and tribal officials in the PolyMet mining project, one of his top priorities. The group meets quarterly to discuss permitting and environmental review. Bars said Cravaack also helped protect 3,900 iron ore jobs on the Iron Range by sponsoring a “Buy America” steel amendment for federal transportation projects.