ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack explained Friday that his wife and children moved to New Hampshire last year so that his autistic son could get more time with his mother, as he faces questions about his ties to Minnesota from Democratic challenger Rick Nolan.
In his latest TV ad in one of the country's most heated House races, Nolan says Cravaack, a first-term incumbent, "isn't from here and he doesn't live here anymore."
Cravaack, who moved to a house in North Branch after his family moved east, accused Nolan of breaking a "gentleman's agreement" not to bring his family into the campaign. He said it was "a little hypocritical" because Nolan's family lived in Washington when he served in Congress in the 1970s and early 1980s.
"He's focusing on my family moving out to the East Coast, when he himself moved his family out to the East Coast," Cravaack said. "He of all people should know."
Nolan' campaign manager, Mike Misterek, said the new ad isn't about Cravaack's family, but about his ties to northeastern Minnesota, a line of questioning that Cravaack himself pursued when he challenged former Rep. Jim Oberstar two years ago.
"We never mentioned his son. We never mentioned his family in any way. This is all about him and how much he understands this district," Misterek said.
Democrats see Cravaack's seat as vulnerable, and outside groups have spent more than $6 million on the race. Cravaack's 2010 victory made him the first Republican to represent Minnesota's 8th District in more than 60 years.
Cravaack said he and his wife, Traci, decided to make new living arrangements after their older son, Nick, had a seizure while a babysitter was watching him. Cravaack got a call and rushed to their Lindstrom home to find paramedics reviving Nick, who is now 11. He said at the time, his wife was traveling for her Boston-based job as a pharmaceutical executive, and that moving to Windham, N.H., with their two sons also allowed her to be closer to work.
"We had to make a family decision about taking care of our children," Cravaack said.
Cravaack said his TV ads didn't talk about Oberstar's living arrangements when he challenged the long-serving Democrat in 2010. He said he voters care more about his record than where his family sleeps. He said he and his wife hope she can get a job transfer that would bring her back to Minnesota again someday.
"Instead of talking about the issues, he wants to talk about where my kids lay their head at night," Cravaack said of Nolan.
Misterek said Nolan moved his family to Washington when he served in Congress to spend "as much time with his kids as humanly possible." He said Nolan's ad — which shows Nolan with a gun and dog and driving a pickup in the woods — is drawing a contrast with Cravaack by comparing their roots.
"He didn't grow up here. It's a clear difference between the two of them. Rick grew up here. He was born and raised here," Misterek said.