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Nolan beats Mills in 8th district race

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., won re-election to Congress early Wednesday with The Associated Press calling the election at about 12:30 a.m. and his opponent deciding to wait until all the precincts are counted before issuing a statement.

8th District Congressman Rick Nolan raises his wife, Mary’s hand while grandson Huck Heggerston watches at Nolan Campaign headquarters Tuesday night at Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
8th District Congressman Rick Nolan raises his wife, Mary’s hand while grandson Huck Heggerston watches at Nolan Campaign headquarters Tuesday night at Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., won re-election to Congress early Wednesday with The Associated Press calling the election at about 12:30 a.m. and his opponent deciding to wait until all the precincts are counted before issuing a statement.

Nolan, 70, congratulated his opponent, Mills Fleet Farm vice president Stewart Mills, for his part in what he called his toughest campaign and one of the most expensive House races in the nation.

"So many millions of dollars of negative campaigning," he said. "Both parties are guilty of it. We really need to change the way we do politics in this country."

Chloe Rockow, communications director, said early Wednesday the Mills Fleet Farm vice president was probably at a "point of concession" and that there was "probably no chance of victory" but that the GOP candidate wanted to wait until all of the precincts were counted before issuing a statement.

Nolan said the night included a lot of anxiety but he had a good team that analyzed the results and they were convinced the victory was theirs. He said Mills ran an incredible campaign. He said he'll renew his efforts to push for his Reform Democracy Act, a campaign reform effort.

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"I'm going to push real hard for that," he said.

He credited his victory to good work by he and his staff in helping to keep the U.S. out of a war in the Mideast and bipartisan work with other lawmakers.

"It's not uncommon for people to reward good work," Nolan said.

The veteran DFLer also credited his supporters with stepping up in the face of a challenging race. Nolan compared his campaign's efforts to "swimming upstream against a strong current," noting the many Democrats who were defeated in the mid-term election.

Nolan held a slight lead in the early morning hours of Wednesday, leading 109,193-104,389 with 580 of 810 precincts reporting.

Long before most precincts had been counted, Nolan was being cautiously optimistic.

At the Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, Nolan and his wife, Mary, didn't join the festivities until about 9:45 a.m., slowly making his way past old friends such as Marcia Ferris, former Crow Wing County DFL chair.

Wearing a black sport coat with an open collar, Nolan, 70, approached the podium at 10 p.m.

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"I've never seen a such an outpouring of support in this campaign," he said.

He thanked supporters for contributions from door-knocking to contributions and credited their actions with placing them within victory's grasp.

"We've still got a darn good chance of winning," he said. "There are still lots of votes to be counted. We may be here a long, long time tonight."

He told a Brainerd Dispatch reporter that election observers might be up late Tuesday night.

"There's always some anxiety related to this," the political veteran said. "God forbid it's not a recount."

Later on he joked with a supporter: "Can't they speed this up, somehow?"

Shortly before the polls closed Mills, 42, talked to supporters at Gull Dam Brewery, an establishment owned by Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore. He reiterated his family's hunting camp doctrine, in which the person who complained about a problem was assigned the task to fix it, as his reason for entering politics.

Mills thanked supporters and described the campaign as a great experience.

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"We're optimistic," he said. "We won the base.We won on the issues."

Speaking a few miles from where he grew up in East Gull Lake and just down the road from his church, Mills he said that as a youngster, living on what used to be Route 10, Brainerd, he never dreamed he would be in a dead heat race for the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Absolutely not," he said.

While his mother was involved in politics, he said it wasn't his strong passion.

"I personally had no interest in it," he said.

It was the policies of the district's current representation in Congress that fueled discussions at the office and at lunch at the Northwind Grille in Brainerd. Nolan, he said "was promoting the wrong policy."

Mills, as was his custom during the campaign, dressed informally in jeans, a plaid shirt with an open collar and a sport coat.

Friends and supporters sipped on beers and watched television for early results.

This was Mills first run for office. He burst on the scene in a January of 2013 with an open letter on Second Amendment rights to Nolan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Al Franken, via a YouTube video.

The Nisswa resident was endorsed by 8th District Republicans in Park Rapids in April.

The married father of five, Mills has worked in his family's businesses in a variety of positions since the age of 14. After graduation from Northwood University with a degree in business administration in 1995, Mills entered Fleet Farm's store management program, working at a number of different Fleet Farm stores. He served as director of personnel for FleetFarm from 2000-2010, overseeing the administration and the work force as well as health insurance, 401-K, profit-sharing and other benefit plans. Mills is also the originator of Fleetfarm.com, health care plans, Mills Indoor Shooting and Archery and the "We Love It! Outdoors" television series.

Community organizations Mills has been involved in include being a board member of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police Foundation. He is the creator of the Louis Hostager Award, given annually in conjunction with the Brainerd Family YMCA. He has also supported the Salvation Army Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and the Women's Center of Mid-Minnesota.

The Mills companies were started in 1922 in Brainerd by Stewart Mills Sr., with an emphasis in the automotive industry. The Fleet Farm component was added by Stew Mills Jr. and Hank Mills in 1955. Mills Fleet Farm was described in Mills' biography as a growing, closely held, multi-generational family business with more than 30 retail locations. The statement said the Mills companies are headed by Henry Mills II and Stew Mills Jr., assisted by their children, Charlie, Andrew, Marisa, and Stewart.

The Nolan headquarters drew other DFLers including former state Sen. Don Samuelson, former state Rep. Kris Hasskamp, former Crow Wing County DFL and Senate District 4 chair Steve Barrows (a candidate for Baxter City council this year). Barrows chatted with his opponent, Quinn Nystrom at the Arrowwood Lodge. Nystrom arrived at the event with former DFL state Senate candidate Taylor Stevenson.

Both the Nolan and Mills campaign headquarters drew a good number of media representatives including WCCO, KSTP and Fox News, all from the Twin Cities. WDIO and Fox News of Duluth and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and the Duluth News Tribune.

Nolan of rural Crosby, came out of political retirement in 2012 when he won the DFL primary and went on to defeat Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., toppling the first Republican to hold that seat t since the World War II era.

Previously he had represented the 6th District in Congress, winning elections in 1974, 1976 and 1980. He was a part of the Democratic wave that was sent to Congress when the Watergate scandal was coming to light.

He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1969-72, representing Morrison County. Nolan is 1962 graduate of Washington High School in Brainerd and earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota in 1966.

Between his stints in Congress, Nolan spent 32 years in U.S. and international business. Among his business interests was a plant that made wood pallets near Emily.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2014
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