At 8 a.m. this morning, more than 1,800 people showed up for a congressional debate in Duluth, Minnesota between 18-term Democrat Jim Oberstar and his Republican opponent Chip Cravaack, a former Navy pilot and Northwest Airlines pilot. Cravaack said his first priority would be scrapping Obamacare, while Oberstar defended the national health care law:

When asked what their first priority would be if elected to Congress, Republican Cravaack said he would to shouts of glee and applause from his supporters.

“I want to make sure that never happens,’’ DFLer Oberstar snapped back, adding that he would work to protect health care reform. He said his top priority would be to pass a federal transportation funding bill to put construction workers back to work rebuilding the nation’s highways, rails and airports. [...]

“It’s going to be a job killer,’’ Cravaack said. “It’s going to put a bureaucrat between us and our doctor.”

But Oberstar said the health reform package “that I proudly voted for” will guarantee coverage despite pre-existing conditions, guarantee coverage won’t be cut off, end caps on benefits and, eventually, reduce the cost of health insurance while covering more people.

Oberstar countered that “health insurance company bureaucrats’’ already are standing between patients and doctors, denying coverage and looking after corporate “bottom lines’’ rather than patient care.

Oberstar mocked some Cravaack supporters at the debate, calling global warming skeptics members of the "flat earth society." Ed Morrissey has more on the debate here.

Oberstar generally wins reelection with more than 65% of the vote, but he may be in trouble this time around. An internal GOP poll showed a tight race, and Oberstar only had one donor from his district last quarter. Oberstar, the former co-chair of the pro-life caucus, has lost the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee for supporting Obamacare. The NRLC's political director says: "Chip Cravaack is firmly committed to repealing the anti-life provisions of the pro-abortion, pro-rationing Obama health care law passed by Congress in March – a law that Jim Oberstar voted for and helped enact."

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