It was a routine summer evening in July 2011 for 8th District U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack’s family.
The congressman was at a town hall meeting in North Branch, about a 40-minute drive from his home in Lindstrom.
His wife, Tracy, who commuted during the week from Minnesota to Boston and back for her job with a pharmaceutical company, was at work on the East Coast.
The two boys, Nick, then 10, and Grant, then 7, were playing at home while being watched by a babysitter. Nick, who is autistic, was swinging on a set that the congressman had built for him in the basement.
“Swinging soothes him. He’ll be literally down there for hours. He goes into a spectrum. He calls it ‘frolic,’” Cravaack said in a recent telephone interview.
Then an accident at home happened that forced a change in the family’s way of life. Nick hit his head on a small opening of the padding that had been placed in the basement. He was knocked unconscious.
“The babysitter tried to call me, but I had turned off my cell phone while in the town hall meeting,” Cravaack recalled.
Tracy was contacted, who then got hold of a deputy sheriff in Minnesota. Cravaack was finally told his son was injured. When he got home ambulances were there, with first responders tending to Nick.
“He was scared as heck. He was so panicked, I asked if it was OK for me to transport him to the hospital. After they made sure he didn’t have a fractured neck they let me do that,” Cravaack said. “Luckily he has a hard head, like me.”
He would be fine. But that same night Cravaack and his wife knew a lifestyle change was needed.
“I said, ‘We’re taking care of our family.’ I didn’t care about political ramifications ... we’ve got to take care of our family,” the congressman said.
The Cravaacks bought a house in New Hampshire so that Tracy would be home with the children pretty much daily while working close by in the Boston corridor. The Lindstrom home was sold, but the Republican congressman then established residency in North Branch still in the 8th District.
It would prove to be somewhat emotionally difficult for the family, especially the boys, but Cravaack has always been quick to point out to them that it doesn’t compare with family separations for U.S. troops serving overseas, many of them in conflict.
Cravaack never thought it would become an issue during this year’s re-election campaign. Cravaack and his Democratic challenger Rick Nolan of the Brainerd area had agreed during at least two conversations recently that “families were off limits.”
But then the DFL Party and the Nolan campaign put out TV ads that refer to the Cravaacks’ family situation and say Cravaack doesn’t live in Minnesota anymore.
“To do that is extremely disrespectful of me and my family,” Cravaack said.