MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota's 8th Congressional District rematch between Congressman Rick Nolan and republican Stewart Mills is once again one of the closely watched campaigns in the entire country.
In 2014, this 8th District race alone generated more than $12 million in outside spending – the second-most expensive congressional campaign in the entire country.
Eighth district voters are the toughest in the state, known for hardball politics.
Nolan joined WCCO Sunday and began by defending his ad that portrays him as an "outsider."
"My opponent tries to always portray me as professional politician – first elected in the 70s. He forgets the fact that I left politics," he said. "I spent 32 years in business: sawmill and a pallet factory business up in the 8th, an export trading business, involved in the community as president of our Central Lakes College Foundation as a volunteer -- raising scholarship money, serving on my town board. I've been out of politics for 32 years."
"I just returned," he added. "I was trying to recruit a younger candidate. I tried to convince the mayor of Duluth and some younger representatives and senators."
The Mills campaign says Nolan has repeatedly voted to raise his own pay while cutting veterans' salaries.
"As to the ads, they're just wrong," Nolan said. "Congress did not vote itself a pay raise in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012 -- number one -- so he's just making that up. Secondly, it's illegal for the congress to pass a pay raise for themselves. You can pass a pay raise, if you want, for the next congress, but we didn't even do that," he said.
Nolan did say that he voted for a higher pay for congress before he left in the early-1980s.
"One of the reasons I left the congress back in 1981 was, with four kids, I couldn't afford to serve in the congress, so I voted to increase the pay for future members of congress," he said.
In response to being accused of not raising veterans' pay, Nolan said that's also wrong.
"I voted to increase veterans' pay, soldiers' pay in 2016, in 2015," he said. "Before that, there was a great deal of concern being expressed about what was happening in the VA, they weren't getting the job done and taking care of our veterans. The bill that the congress put up didn't fund the VA the way people felt it should. Many of the veterans groups were opposed to the bill in its form. As a result of killing those first measures, we were able to make some progress and I voted for the appropriation."
The overall aim of the ad was to paint Nolan as weak and dangerous on terrorism because some of his votes.
"That's just not true. They run these ads saying Nolan wanted to release terrorists from Guantanamo (Bay) into the United States. There's another sentence that goes after that: release them into maximum security prisons here in the United States where they belong and where they will remain forever. Why? Because it's costing $7 million per prisoner in Guantanamo. And we can house them in a maximum federal security prison here in the U.S. for $33,000. We can save half a billion dollars by putting them in prison where they belong."
Nolan also spoke on being accused of wanting to bring in Syrian refugees and being soft on terror.
"I've lived in the Middle East. I speak Arabic. Some of these people were our friends, our supporters. They worked alongside of us. They were interpreters for us. Others are just women and children and victims of something they aren't responsible for. Nobody has been a stronger advocate than I have in a proper and thorough vetting of refugees. No matter where they come from. It's a process that requires the CIA, the FBI, the National Security, Homeland Security to approve them. It takes several years and before that they spent several years in refugee camps. They are so thoroughly vetted and investigated. I think Minnesota has taken in something like 24. And I think 20 of them were women and children, and two of them were men that were allies and supporters of ours."
WCCO has repeatedly extended an invitation to candidate Mills to appear on the show.
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