Minnesota 8th District
In the 1860s, prospectors in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, northwest of Lake Superior in the low hills of the Mesabi Range, happened upon one of the nation’s largest veins of iron ore. They moved on, looking for gold. But in the 1880s, Duluth banker George Stone and Philadelphia financier Charlemagne Tower started mining the Iron Range and created the northern end of the lifeline of American heavy industry. Rail lines ran south from the Range to the port of Duluth, nestled on dramatic bluffs over the always-cold and, for long months every winter, frozen waters of Lake Superior—one of the most beautiful settings for a city in North America, though also one of the most isolated. Duluth was a grain-shipping rival of Chicago and the premier iron ore port. Its city plan was drawn up by architect Daniel Burnham, who also planned Chicago, and its splendid turn-of-the-century buildings still celebrate the triumph of technology and civilization over wilderness and the elements. Millions of tons of ore have been dug out of the Range and loaded into railcars for the ride to Duluth, and into Great Lakes freighters for shipment to Chicago, Gary, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
For most of the 20th century, in this land where the Arctic winds blow down over the Canadian Shield’s thousands of inland lakes, about 100,000 people lived on the Iron Range and another 100,000 in Duluth, most of them descendants of America’s 1880-1924 wave of immigration: Italians, Poles, Serbs and Croats, Jews, Swedes, and Finns. In this punishing environment, they worked to the point of exhaustion, built solid houses with staunch central heating, and wore layers of warm clothing to survive the brutal winter, which can be as extreme as 50 degrees below zero. Life was rough. The work was hard, the hours long, and the pay low. The churches, a separate one for each ethnic group, were the main community institutions. Living conditions improved vastly in the decades of great economic growth after World War II, but life remains rough-hewn today, and there is still economic distress. As iron mines and steel factories got more efficient, they needed fewer workers, and employment is well below its 1970s peak. As water fills abandoned open-pit mines, as factories close and mines are shut down, the Iron Range looks bleaker. In 2007, Duluth’s population was down to 84,400, and the Iron Range’s was about the same. Economic growth is sporadic. In the 1990s, Northwest Airlines built a large repair facility in Duluth and a reservations center in the Iron Range, and the call center survived the 2008 merger with Delta Airlines. The port of Duluth still ships large quantities of grain, and in the late 1990s a new taconite and steelmaking factory was built—the first big new plant in more than 20 years. People here have made the best of the frozen climate. Automakers test their new models’ performance under extreme winter conditions at International Falls in Koochiching County. A new sports competition is the winter ultramarathon, a 135-mile endurance contest of walking, running, cycling, or skiing from International Falls to Tower.
The 8th Congressional District of Minnesota includes Duluth and the Iron Range, plus much of the north woods and lake country to the west and south. It extends all the way south to the boundaries of the Twin Cities metro area, to Isanti and Chisago counties, where young families are building new homes in pleasant old lakeside towns. This district has been a bulwark of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party since the DFL was formed in 1944, and has been considered safely Democratic for years. But there are signs of change. The fast-growing counties in the south and west have trended toward Republicans, while Duluth and the Iron Range remain Democratic. However, issues like gun control and environmental regulation have sometimes moved those areas toward the Republicans. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry won here 53%-46% over President Bush. Four years later, Democrat Barack Obama had a similar 53%-45% win over Republican John McCain.