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Norm Coleman-led group goes after Nolan with aggressive ad campaign

Rick Nolan finds himself under attack by a Norm Coleman-led nonprofit. (2012 file / News Tribune)

The past week might be considered the week the television race for Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District began.

A nonprofit group led by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman is spending nearly $600,000 in television and Web-based ads against Democrat Rick Nolan as he takes on incumbent U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-North Branch). The buy includes the Duluth media market.

It is at least the fourth group from outside the district to launch campaigns in the past week. But until now, only viewers in the Twin Cities media market -- which covers the densely populated southern part of the congressional district -- were getting the ads.

The ads released Monday from the American Action Network drew a strong reaction from the Nolan campaign, which called a press conference Monday afternoon to discount the one in the Duluth market as misleading.

Nolan campaign manager Mike Misterek said the television ad tries to portray Nolan as not supportive of mining on the Iron Range, particularly the PolyMet copper and precious metals project near Ely.

"This ad is a distortion of the record at best," he said.

He said Nolan created mining jobs when he was in Congress in the 1970s and continues to create jobs in the district through his own sawmill and wood pallet business in Emily.

Misterek said Nolan knows the issues at hand, having grown up on the Cuyuna Range with a longstanding record of supporting mining.

"We can do PolyMet, and we can do it right," Misterek said.

The 30-second ad uses part of a News Tribune story from July as the Democratic primary challengers sparred over mining issues.

The ad uses a paraphrase of Nolan's thoughts on legislation from Congress that could ease regulations on the approval of mining projects.

The ad accuses the Environmental Protection Agency of "standing in the way" of mining projects and that it is holding up "fast-tracking" efforts in Congress.

It then shows the paraphrase on the screen:

"Nolan said he wouldn't support ... legislation that would roll back regulations on mining."

Later in the News Tribune story, Nolan detailed his stance on the bill. It isn't included in the ad.

"I would support the parts of the bill that streamline the process when possible," Nolan said. "But that bill does a great deal more than that. It guts basic environmental, health and safety protections. Democrats and Republicans both support mining. The difference is that Democrats insist on rules and regulations to protect human and environmental health."

Cravaack's campaign said the ad buy is out of its control because campaign laws do not allow coordination with groups like American Action Network. Campaign spokesman Michael Bars said Cravaack was unavailable for comment Monday.

American Action Network announced Monday that it is spending $1.6 million on four congressional races in three states. Because it is considered a non-profit organization, its donors can remain anonymous.

The group is spending $110,000 on the mining ad in the Duluth region. It is spending $460,000 in the Twin Cities-area market on ads focused on Medicare.

"This is the beginning of an aggressive effort to define liberal candidates by laying out their irresponsible records for constituents," said Dan Conston, communications director for AAN. "The election of these candidates would make it that much harder to pass into law the kinds of center-right policies that would turn this economy around."

The Nolan press conference featured supportive comments from mining union member Ray Pierce Jr., state Rep. Carly Melin of Hibbing and Nolan's primary opponent Jeff Anderson.

Anderson sparred with Nolan in July over the mining issue, saying he supported the Congressional bill being pushed by Cravaack.

On Monday, Anderson put his support behind Nolan.

He said seeing the mining ad and its distortions "fired me up."

"I know Rick Nolan is right on these issues," Anderson said. "He's not just talk."

Anderson and Melin said Cravaack is good at posturing for mining projects but has nothing to show for it in two years in office.

"He's proven he's especially good at having meetings," Anderson said.

Melin said the state legislature was able to compromise on measures to streamline the permitting process and it needs a federal partner who will act.

Pierce said he's seen mining companies that are motivated by profits and wants to make sure environmental protections are in place to protect the employees who live near mining areas.

"It's important to have regulations in place," he said. "I know Rick Nolan's record for creating jobs as well as protecting the workers. He's always been a supporter of mining, not just during election years."

Biography ad

The Republican Party of Minnesota took a jab at Nolan's mostly benign, biographical 30-second ad that also debuted Monday. It doesn't mention Cravaack, but does say Nolan wants to shore up the middle class by getting Congress to advocate for it.

Party chairman Pat Shortridge released a statement about Nolan's record on gun rights, saying he is trying to "reinvent" himself in the ad with images of him hunting.

"Nolan can call himself whatever he wants, but no amount of pretty pictures can change who Rick Nolan is, a lifelong liberal Democrat who supported gun control and even gun registration, and still does," Shortridge said in a press release.

Misterek said Nolan is a supporter of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the right of Americans to bear arms.

"He understands the values and traditions of Minnesota because he is a part of those values and traditions," Misterek said. "Rick never misses a hunting opener. He and his black Lab, Lucky, will be out on the marsh at the crack of dawn this coming Saturday hoping the ducks will be flying

Sierra Club effort

The Sierra Club announced Monday that it has put up billboards targeting Cravaack for "failing to support the Production Tax Credit for wind energy." The billboards ask why Cravaack doesn't care about the state's wind industry workers.

"Representative Cravaack talks so much about the economy, you'd think he'd act to protect Minnesota jobs. But he has done nothing to support his constituents and renew the Production Tax Credit," said John Doberstein, a Sierra Club volunteer from Duluth. "With as many as 37,000 American wind jobs hanging in the balance, Representative Cravaack must stand up for Minnesota families and work to renew the PTC before the end of the year."

The incentive provides an income tax credit for the production of wind energy from turbines, a tax break for wind energy companies. It was created in 1992 and is set to expire in December unless Congress acts on an extension.

The billboards are posted along Interstate 35 in West Duluth and North Branch.