Pictures for Radio: The end of an era

This year I spent the election season working for Minnesota Public Radio and following the DFL candidates, particularly 18-term U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar.  The representative for Minnesota’s 8th congressional district was as close to a sure thing in politics when it comes to getting reelected.  He was also one of the most powerful members of Congress while chairing the House Transportation Committee.  That chairmanship brought millions and millions of dollars to Minnesota infrastructure projects.  Until this year, Oberstar had never garnered less than 59% of the vote, but this might have been the worst political climate for Democrats since he was first elected to the house in 1974.

Out of nowhere came a Republican upstart named Chip Cravaack.  A retired Naval officer and Northwest Airlines pilot, Cravaack seized on Oberstar’s votes for the bailout and health care reform and voters’ discontent about the economy and made this a race unlike anything this part of Minnesota had ever seen.  In the weeks before the election, the gap in the polls closed and race became a dead heat.  A contentious debate in Duluth on October 19th revealed just how heated this race had become when supporters for both Cravaack and Oberstar often drowned out the candidates themselves with heckling and boos.

Then election day came.  I was tasked to cover Oberstar’s election party.  People there were pretty enthusiastic and hopeful.  Oberstar led for a vast majority of the night until about 2 a.m. when the polls tightened and lead switched back and forth.  At 4 a.m., the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office declared the race for Cravaack.  There wasn’t much going on at Oberstar’s party considering he had left at 11 p.m. and at 230 a.m. when I left there were only 20 people left in the room–18 of which were media, one campaign manager who said he was not going to give a speech and one supporter who was asleep.

The next day Oberstar gave a moving concession speech where he refused to apologize for any of his votes, listed his favorite accomplishments and then thanked friends, family members and supporters before quietly slipping away.  It was the end of an era for northern Minnesota.

Congressman Jim Oberstar speaks to a crowd of supporters Thursday evening at the Miners Memorial Building in Virginia, Minn.

Representative Tom Rukavina gets in a few fiery words before United States Congressman Jim Oberstar takes the mic during a DFL rally Thursday evening at the Miners Memorial Building in Virginia, Minn. On the right is United States Senator Amy Klobuchar.

District eight congressional candidate Chip Cravaack (2nd from left) listens to Congressman Jim Oberstar (2nd from right) talk about proposed cap-and-trade regulations Tuesday morning during a debate at the DECC auditorium in Duluth, Minn.

Chip Cravaack debates Congressman Jim Oberstar at the DECC auditorium in Duluth, Minn.

Claude Washington checks out the scene at the Jim Oberstar election party Tuesday evening at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, Minn. Washington's facepaint was part of a celebration of Mexico's Day of the Dead.

United States representative Jim Oberstar (left) and friend Kris Ridgewell (right) watch the first results come in for Oberstar's race against Chip Cravaack Tuesday evening at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, Minn.

From left: Scott Yeazle, Carrie Edwards, Cathy Schuyler and Claire Kirch watch election results come in on a television setup at the Jim Oberstar election party Tuesday evening at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, Minn.

United States representative Jim Oberstar (right) and his wife Jean Oberstar (left) talk to a crowd of supporters Tuesday evening at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, Minn. as election results continue to come in.

At 12:41 in the morning, Kelvin Covington was one of the last Jim Oberstar supporters awaiting results Wednesday morning at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, Minn.

Surrounded by friends, family and supporters, United States representative Jim Oberstar speaks to the media Wednesday afternoon at the Gerald W. Heaney Federal Building in Duluth, Minn.

United States representative Jim Oberstar begins to tear up while speaking to the media after being defeated by Republican challenger Chip Cravaack Wednesday afternoon at the Gerald W. Heaney Federal Building in Duluth, Minn.

United States representative Jim Oberstar hugs his wife Jean after speaking to media Wednesday afternoon at the Gerald W. Heaney Federal Building in Duluth, Minn. Oberstar had just been defeated by Republican challenger Chip Cravaack.

United States representative Jim Oberstar leaves the Gerald W. Heaney Federal Building in Duluth, Minn. after speaking to the media Wednesday afternoon. Oberstar had just been defeated by Republican challenger Chip Cravaack.