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Mills, Nolan pull in marquee names and money to finish race for Congress

In the final days of the rematch battle between U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and GOP challenger Stewart Mills III, their race for the 8th Congressional District has once again become greater than itself.

Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (left) and Republican challenger Stewart Mills III.
Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (left) and Republican challenger Stewart Mills III.

In the final days of the rematch battle between U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and GOP challenger Stewart Mills III, their race for the 8th Congressional District has once again become greater than itself.

It's one of a few congressional races in America where it's an open question who will win. President Obama won the district by 6 percentage points in 2012, but Nolan won it by 1.4 points in 2014.

More than $20 million has been spent on the race, making it the most expensive in the country when both regular campaign money and spending from outside groups are combined. According to the Center For Responsive Politics, about $4.87 million has been spent by Mills and Nolan's campaigns. About $15.69 million has been spent by outside groups to get their message across in the 8th, the majority of it bashing either Mills or Nolan, not promoting them.

About $1.36 million has come in support of Nolan, with $7.85 million against him. By contrast, about $95,000 has come in support of Mills, with $6.39 million against him.

Big names have also flocked to the 8th along with the big money. Vice President Joe Biden came to Duluth Oct. 28, and former Vice President Walter Mondale appeared at a fish fry the day before. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan fundraised twice for Mills-once in August in Nisswa, and again Wednesday in Minneapolis.

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Trump wave worries

The attention and money on the 8th is due to a demographic shift in 8th from Democrat to Republican, Mills said Wednesday.

He said polls by his campaign and SurveyUSA showed that for the first time, more people identified as Republicans than as Democrats.

"That's why the outside money is coming in," Mills said. "Because the Democrats are clinging to holding onto it."

Nolan agreed the district was becoming more Republican, but also pinned the outside influence on "super-millionaire" Mills.

"It all started when Mills declared he would spend as much money as it took to win ... that kind of immediately set the tone," Nolan said.

The 8th District race has also drawn national media attention. A piece by Washington, D.C.-based outlet Roll Call highlighted the conundrum Nolan faces as a Democrat running in a Trump-leaning district.

"If Nolan-a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus-is to survive, he needs to appeal to a significant number of Trump supporters," the piece said.

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That's an accurate assessment, Nolan said Thursday. Internal polling showed a "fair number" of Trump supporters who also support him, he said. When asked how he would appeal to them, he named the same issue he did in the Roll Call piece: trade.

"That's an issue that appears to differentiate Mills and myself," he said. "Not so much Trump. Trump consistently talks about the devastating effects of these bad trade deals, and I've been a leader on securing really high tariffs on illegally dumped steel, illegally dumped paper products, and a big leading opponent of Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Nolan said he had received $20,000 in small-dollar contributions that day alone.

A recent KSTP/SurveyUSA poll asked 8th District voters what issues were most important when deciding their preferred candidate and 4 percent choose "foreign trade."

Nolan questioned the accuracy of the poll. Voters on the Iron Range are, in fact, concerned about trade, he said.

"I don't put a lot of confidence in that poll," Nolan said.

The Roll Call piece also produced a headache for Mills because of a portion that described Mills defending Donald Trump's use of Chinese steel. The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the state-level DFL both set upon comments as out-of-place on a steel-industry dependent Iron Range.

On Wednesday, Mills said the Chinese steel story was an unverified allegation that originated in an earlier piece in Newsweek. Changing the subject to unverified allegations against the Clinton camp, he said the Department of Justice had looked the other way when it came to alleged corruption of the state department during Clinton's tenure. He also brought up Clinton's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, which conservatives have often used as a line of criticism against her. Then he circled back around to the Chinese steel issue.

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"Congressman Nolan is wrapped around the axle about some report in Newsweek that Donald Trump may or may not have used foreign steel in one of his construction projects," Mills said.

It was not OK for Trump to have used the Chinese steel, he said.

"It shouldn't have happened," he said. "But it's not going to change my vote."

Impeach Clinton?

Although Republican leaders in Congress are trying to tamp down talk of impeaching Clinton should she be elected, their rank-and-file members are openly musing that it's the right way to go. Impeachment proceedings for a U.S. president first are voted on in the House, which essentially decides if charges will be brought. After a successful vote to impeach in the House, the charges are then tried in the Senate.

Asked if he would vote to impeach Clinton, Mills said he would if there was sufficient evidence and the FBI recommended prosecution or assembled a criminal case against her.

"I would have to see clear, convincing, and compelling evidence to vote to recommend the Senate pursue impeachment proceedings," he said. "But, it looks pretty darn bad for Hillary Clinton."

Asked the same question, Nolan was less committal.

"I wouldn't make a judgment on that at this point in time, except to say that, if something like that would happen, I would obviously, I'd approach it with an open mind, and look at the evidence, and then vote and act accordingly," he said.

Health care and terrorism

The two most popular issues in the KSTP poll were health care with 26 percent and terrorism/national security with 25 percent.

Throughout 2016, Mills and Nolan's national security debate has mostly centered on the two trading shots regarding Syrian refugees and their relationship to terrorism. Nolan's push for 100,000 to be accepted into the U.S. has yielded many attack ads by Mills and outside conservative groups alike.

Asked what to do about terrorism aside from Syria-what to do domestically-Mills said "radical Islam" must be recognized as the problem. Communities like Somalis and Muslims had to take the fight against terrorism seriously and help law enforcement, he said. Police should be given additional resources to combat terrorism.

Mills repeated a false claim made by Trump, who said there were bombs visible on the floor of the San Bernardino attackers' apartment, yet nobody in their community reported them.

"Take a look at San Bernardino," Mills said. "There (were) pipe bombs scattered all over the apartment before that attack that killed 15 people. People in that community saw those pipe bombs, and they didn't say a thing."

That assertion was debunked by the L.A. Times after Trump said it during the second presidential debate last month, as well as other fact checkers when he said it during earlier public appearances. Also, casualty totals figure 14 people killed in the attack, not counting the attackers, which would make it 16 people if included in the tally.

"We need to give people of the Muslim faith the courage and the backing when they see something to come forward, and they shouldn't be persecuted for doing so... if they do raise a false alarm," Mills said.

Nolan said America needs to strengthen its local police and law enforcement, destroy ISIS abroad and make it easier for intelligence operators to subvert and intercept ISIS propaganda. Efforts should also be made to destroy the group abroad, he said.

Asked on specific ways to disrupt the group's propaganda from entering the U.S., Nolan said we need to hire people who know how to do it.

"That gets into very, very sophisticated social media, both interception and disruption," Nolan said. "And there are numerous ways to do that. But we have to invest some money in it. We've gotta hire the smart folks that know how to do that."

Russia had apparently already mastered the art of intercepting emails as demonstrated by hacks on Democrats in America, Nolan said, so America should be able to do the same thing to ISIS.

On health care, the two have mostly sparred on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Asked on how to reform health care while setting aside the ACA debate, Mills suggested health care savings accounts to which individuals and employers could contribute, tax-free. The money could be shared between family members, or if it exceeds a certain benchmark, transferred into a college savings account. He also pointed to high-deductible plans sold across state lines, tort reform, and price transparency so patients could know the cost of their care up front.

"Every time in the history of our economy, or any economy ... go back as far as you want to, every time the government has tried to assume the delivery of a product, good or service, costs have gone up and quality has gone down," Mills said. "It's an economic principle that's as sure as gravity."

Nolan is a firm advocate for single-payer health care where the government pays for care, but the care itself stays with doctors in the private sector (it's also been described as "Medicare for all."

"It's fundamentally American," Nolan said.

Under single payer, Nolan said, everybody has the same basic policy which can be supplemented by additional, optional coverage. He had a laundry list of positives about single payer, including improving America's economic ties abroad.

"Cost effectiveness, delivery effectiveness, fundamental fairness, ability to export, ability to reduce the cost of producing your product," Nolan said. "This has all these profound implications that are really strong."

On Tuesday, the 8th District will find out whether the Republican shift will help turn over the 8th for Mills, or Nolan will take advantage of a populist wave to stay in Congress.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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