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Spending in Minnesota's 8th District congressional race surpasses $10 million

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., and DFL challenge Rick Nolan are running for the 8th Congressional District seat. (2010 and 2012 file photos / News Tribune)

Look out, Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District: Minnesota's mighty 8th is coming for you.

As the race between incumbent Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack and Democrat Rick Nolan heads into its final days, the amount of outside campaign money being spent in the 8th District has continued its upward trajectory -- with nearly $3 million spent in the past two weeks alone.

The combined $8.6 million spent in outside money from SuperPACs and other groups is the third-largest amount spent on a congressional race in the country, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

The outside spending in the 8th trails only Pennsylvania's 12th and Ohio's 16th districts, both of which share a similarity to ours: They feature one-term incumbents battling to hold onto seats in races that polls say are dead heats.

The 8th District candidates themselves are doing their parts to spend big in the race, with the Cravaack campaign reporting about $1.2 million in expenditures to Nolan's $534,000 as of Oct. 17, the last date the two campaigns had to report their spending.

Add up all the money and more than $10 million has been spent in the northern Minnesota race, easily the most ever seen in an 8th District race.

"There are two things going on here," said Tony Hill, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "People need to get their bases out ... and they're trying to sway the middle."

The race isn't the most expensive in the state. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign, for example, has spent $21 million in an attempt to hold her 6th District congressional seat against Democrat Jim Graves, who has spent about $1.5 million. But outside groups haven't given much attention to that race, spending only $122,113.

"She doesn't need (the outside money)," said Wy Spano, a longtime DFL activist and director of UMD's Advocacy and Political Leadership Program. "Bachmann has her own money-raising apparatus that's beyond what most anybody can do."

And when the race started, Spano said, most analysts didn't give Graves much of a chance to win.

"When you're an outside group, you begin the election process by focusing your spending on what's winnable," Spano said.

The outside spending in the 8th District has been overwhelmingly for attack ads against both Cravaack and Nolan.

The nearly $3.9 million spent by outside groups to oppose Cravaack is about $2.7 million more than has been spent by his entire campaign. Nolan's been hit hard by outside groups such as National Republican Congressional Committee and the American Action Network, which have helped spend just over $4 million to oppose him.

As for what effect those ads are having on the race, Spano said he isn't sure.

"The impact everywhere is that the candidates have lost much of the control over the dialogue in an election," Spano said. "I don't know yet what the result of that will be."

As for the economic impact of seeing $10 million dumped into the 8th District election, Tony Barrett, an economics professor at the College of St. Scholastica, said it's largely benefitting the media.

"Think of how great it is for our local TV networks," he said.

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the campaign money spent has gone into TV ads, records show, with radio and newspapers also seeing some benefit.

"The media has been a challenged industry, so this is a welcome relief," Barrett said.