At this point, I'm still chalking it up as "too good to be true," but when a sage such as Michael Barone is saying that the S.S. Oberstar may headed for rough waters you can't help but pay attention:
But we do keep seeing poll results from surprising districts that tend to support the Gallup results. Last week I pointed to a poll (from a pollster I don't know) showing an even race in North Carolina 7 between Republican Ilario Pantano and 14-year Democratic incumbent Mike McIntyre, who won his 2008 race, in which he had an active Republican opponent, with 69% of the vote. Now Ed Morrissey (WHO?) directs our attention to a poll by Public Opinion Strategies, a highly respected Republican firm, in Minnesota 8 showing 36-year incumbent James Oberstar leading Republican challenger Chip Cravaacke by only 45%-42%, within the margin of error.
John McCormack has a good post in the Weekly Standard's blog on this. Oberstar was first elected in 1974, he is Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and has brought public dollars to an economically chronically ailing district. He was reelected in 2008 with 68% of the vote. But this is also a district that, despite containing the Democratic strongholds of Duluth and much of the Iron Range (both in St. Louis County) that voted only 53% for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. However, at its southern end it includes Isanti and Chisago Counties, exurban counties in the Twin Cities metro area, which despite a Democratic heritage have trended away from Democrats in recent elections—toward Jesse Ventura in 1998 and toward Republicans between 2000 and 2008, when they both voted for John McCain.
Minnesota 8 has a certain historic resonance for Democrats. It was one of only two or three districts (I am away from my desk where I have my papers and sources on this) which in the Republican landslide year of 1946 switched from a Republican to a Democratic congressman. This was a move away from progressive and isolationist Republicans (like Alvin O'Konski in the adjoining then-10th District of Wisconsin) toward labor-backed Democrats (completed in the Wisconsin case by the victory of young Democrat David Obey over O'Konski when they were redistricted together in 1972). Only two Democrats have represented Minnesota 8 ever since, John Blatnik, first elected in 1946 and for whom Oberstar worked as a staffer, and since 1974 Oberstar; only one Democrat, David Obey, has represented what is now Wisconsin 7 since 1969. For Oberstar to have a serious challenge, much less to be in danger of defeat, is quite astonishing. If these numbers are right—and like all poll numbers they are subject to some degree of doubt—they tend to confirm the Gallup likely voter numbers.
As for Obey, he has chosen to retire this year at age 72, and Republican Sean Duffy is waging a serious campaign for the district. These are two American congressional districts that touch on Lake Superior, that huge and cold forboding body of water over which the great freighters filled with iron ore have sailed in the ice-free months, from Duluth to the steel factories in Gary, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. In the third of these districts, Michigan 1, Republican Dan Benishek looks like the favorite to take the district being vacated by Democrat Bart Stupak.
If Oberstar actually does go down this election could indeed be the political storm of the century. Voters in the Eighth District have been represented by Democrats (two of them) for sixty-two years. It's high time for a change.