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Michele Bachmann, Fending Off Tarryl Clark in Nation's Most Expensive Tea Party

4 years ago
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ELK RIVER, Minn. -- Some 25 people were on hand at the 6th Congressional District candidates' forum as Tarryl Clark began her pitch.

"It's really unfortunate that Congresswoman Bachmann couldn't be here, even though Congress is out of session," the Democratic state senator said as independent candidate Bob Anderson sat mutely at her side. "I am running, frankly, because I think Washington still isn't working for us, and I don't think your congresswoman is either."

Two nights earlier, the congresswoman in question, Michele Bachmann, sat before an enthusiastic crowd of 400 conservative supporters in Minneapolis -- in the next congressional district from hers. They had turned out to see the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus at the "Reclaiming America: The Taking Back Congress Tour," even as the Minnesota Twins played a few blocks away in the second of their doomed playoff games with the Yankees.

michele bachmann"This is probably the most disliked Republican in Congress," conservative radio host Dennis Prager said to cheers. Bachmann, wearing a brown dress with a big polka-dot bow at the waist, took a curtsy. "I actually think your being a female and being as good-looking as you are is a major factor," he went on. "That your intelligence and values should come in such a beautiful package disturbs the liberals and the left tremendously."

Whether looks will play a factor on Nov. 2 is debatable. But the most popular Republican woman after Sarah Palin and her equally telegenic Democratic challenger have attracted more money to their campaigns than any other House match-up this year.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), by mid-summer Bachmann and Clark had raised more than $7 million between them. More recent reports show the two-term incumbent has raised $7.5 million alone, while Clark's campaign said this week she had surpassed the $3 million mark.

Given her national celebrity, it isn't surprising that slightly more than half of Bachmann's donations come from out of state, according to a breakdown by CRP. More than 80 percent of Clark's money is from Minnesotans, although she has benefited from national appeals by party heavyweights like former President Bill Clinton and liberal groups such as EMILY's List.

Considering the piles of cash being heaped on the 6th District at a time when the average House campaign costs just over $1 million, a casual observer might conclude the race is tight. Yet, so far, it is not.

The most recent poll showed Bachmann with a comfortable nine-point lead over Clark.

No Bigger Target

It would be difficult to find a more high-profile Republican incumbent that Democrats would more like to beat this year than Michele Bachmann. She drives progressives crazy with her sometimes questionable statements on cable TV, where a University of Minnesota study last year calculated she appeared on average once every nine days.

In 2008, Bachmann said on "Hardball" that Barack Obama "may have anti-American views" and called for an investigation of members of Congress to find out if they were "pro-America." In the next four days, more than $1 million poured into the campaign of her until-then obscure Democratic opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg. He came within three percentage points of Bachmann, the narrowest re-election margin for a House GOP incumbent that year.

"Sometimes she may get carried away with the rhetoric," said Daryl Thompson, an Elk River salesman, "but we really need someone in Washington who will represent the 6th District in a less-government fashion."

Barring another late-breaking gaffe and what University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs calls "a perfect storm" of low Republican and high Democratic turnout, it seems unlikely Clark can prevail.

The 6th stretches from the Wisconsin border, wraps around the northern suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul and extends west beyond working-class St. Cloud -- Clark's hometown. It is the state's most conservative district. There are liberal pockets -- Bachmann lives in blue-leaning Stillwater -- but voters in the district preferred John McCain for president over Obama by seven points.

Clark is on the Democratic campaign committee's targeted "red to blue" list, but party strategists in Washington privately write off her chances. That hasn't stopped rank-and-file Democrats from giving generously to the assistant majority leader of the Minnesota state senate if it will help defeat the much-reviled lightening rod for liberal rage.

That's unlikely, said Eric Ostermeier, author of the Smart Politics blog at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs: "They picked the wrong fight based on their emotions."

Clark is "running as good a campaign as you can, but the odds are against her," said David Schultz, a political scientist at Hamline University in St. Paul. "This is a Republican year in a highly Republican district and Bachmann represents the conservative values of that district."

Brad Yorkman, an Elk River home-school supply store owner, echoed several constituents interviewed in saying he liked Bachman's "candor" and the way she "tells it like it is." He said her fiscal and social conservatism matches his own and criticized Clark and other Democrats for wanting to increase the size of government and his tax bill.

"The liberal arm of Congress wants to get any conservatives they can out," he said. "This is an important race because of the differences in their values."

Ostermeier said Clark's only hope is to convince voters that Bachmann is too conservative for even the 6th. He has written that while the district is the 128th most conservative in the nation, Bachmann's voting record is the 28th most conservative in the House of Representatives.

Clark made that case in an interview. She said Bachmann has lost touch with her constituents as she has traveled around "crusading" and appearing on national TV.

"She has made this a national race. She's a bit confused about what she's running for," Clark said. "She's been running around the country ginning people up, ginning the right-wing extremists up and been raising a lot of money off of it." In the meantime, Clark insists, she is now "in striking distance" of the incumbent.

Bachmann shuns the mainstream national media and turned down an interview request. She also has shunned Clark and Anderson, the Independence Party candidate who is drawing 6 percent in polls. The incumbent recently agreed to three debates but only in the final week of the campaign.

Which is not to say the two major party candidates aren't "talking" to and about each other. The campaigns have waged a high-tech war of tweets, targeted cellphone ads, sarcastic websites and dueling commercials.

Bachmann's first ads featured "Jim the election guy," an actor talking about "Taxing Tarryl." Clark responded on YouTube with actual constituents, or "Real Jims," who dissed their congresswoman for taking money from BP and Wall Street.

Most recently, Clark dispensed with Minnesota nice in a video that accuses Bachmann of standing up for special interests while "not doing @#%! for the people of the sixth district."

"That was bold and gutsy and probably a good way to raise money nationally," said Jennifer Lawless, an expert on women and politics at American University in Washington.

But Schultz said the race is "barely about any real issues. It's more ugly personality attacks."

Interviews with voters reveal disgust with the mud-slinging, but it's not clear what impact it will have.

Mary Woodley of Cottage Grove is a staunch Republican who watches Glenn Beck and has voted for Bachmann in the past. But an ad by an outside group accusing her of wanting to "privatize" Medicare and a Clark spot saying the lawmaker wants to "wean" seniors from Social Security has raised questions and left the 59-year-old wanting to know more.

Even if Clark doesn't win, if she can sow doubt in voters' minds to narrow the Republican's winning margin, that will speak volumes about Bachmann's political future. That could include an ideological dream grudge match in 2014 with liberal Sen. Al Franken or, if the GOP retakes control of Congress next month, a more prominent role in leadership.

"If she wins by a large margin, that shores up her credentials in the House even more," Lawless said. "If she underperforms, even if she wins, that sends a message that maybe the talking heads that the Republicans are deploying need to change."

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26 Comments

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AL

I would like to hear some of the people on this blog that are so handy with the adjectives to pen some of the virtues of Michaell's opponent or is that all you have, as CBS asked of Axelrod "is that all you have?"

October 13 2010 at 7:02 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AL's comment
Steve

Why don't you tell us what she has done as member of congress- not a Fox News celeb. What bills, laws, etc. Nothing is the answer, nothing.

October 14 2010 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cpadmitchell

The voters need to remember that the philosophy of the tea party could allow for more bridges to end up in rivers. If the people of her district firmly believe in the decay and deterioration of the infrastructure, they surely should send Michelle Bachmann back to Congress. I for one would prefer bridges to stay standing.

October 13 2010 at 4:04 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
Mary Secor

Michelle Backman has been such an embarrassment to women. All of the women, whom I have known in the past sixteen or more years, regard Bachman a woman of no class, limited intelligence and without any knowledge of the real WORLD nor the planet on which she lives.

October 13 2010 at 3:54 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
Steve

I'm from Minnesota, but not Bachman's district. However, she is such an EMBARRASSMENT. If the election were statewide, Bachman would 'not' even be on the ticket.Her disapproval(disgust more suited) rating is extreme. She has not passed or sponsored one bill of any significance or benefit for Minnesota or the nation. Strctly a 'point and complain' politician. (Remember her 'mauling' Pres. Bush, on national tv?)

October 13 2010 at 10:37 AM Report abuse -14 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Steve's comment
jrsymom

Well, you can't get much "less-government" than Bachmann. She spends more time smiling, kissing Palin's butt, and dem-bashing than she spends legislating. Can anyone tell me ANY logical legislation she has sponsored?

October 13 2010 at 9:58 AM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jrsymom's comment
Jesse

about as much as Obama did when he was a senator, actually, probably more.

October 13 2010 at 10:16 AM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
dollarsinthebank

I take exception to the statement in the article describing her remarks as "questionable". Let's call it what it is. Most of Bachmann's rantings are outright fabrications and lies. And for some obscure reason everything that rolls off her lips is gobbled up and carried away as the gospel. Also, I've become infuriated when she implies that those who don't agree with her form of perverse patriotism are un-American. I am a disabled war veteran who disagrees with nearly everything Bachmann espouses. I'll put my patriotism up against hers anytime.....and the most patriotic thing people in Minnesota could do is vote her out of office.

October 13 2010 at 9:02 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

They are for her because she stands for a balance budget, smaller federal governement and more power back to the states, repeal and redo the healthcare bill, do not put more restriction on business but inforce the ones that are there now and get intitlement programs under control. This is why the people in power want her out. Anyone or business that does not agree with obama will be attacked with unfounded charges.

October 13 2010 at 8:12 AM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to John Vilvens's comment
Ann

She is not for anything sane. She is like a high schooler running for the beauty queen position. She exaggerates and lies everytime she opens her mouth. She has done nothing for America except to disrupt Congress. You know she has to be one of those on the payroll of the rich that want to control America and not pay taxes. She makes Palin look almost sane.

October 13 2010 at 10:22 AM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply
dstack9781

nonsense...........she supported everything Bush did to destroy this economy. EVERYTHING. And now she wants to take credit for what exactly? she is an incompetent yet is able to convince even more ignorant people that she has some value as a congresswoman to her district. What has she actually done? I'd like to hear from some of her district's constituents to explain what she has done specifically for them.

October 13 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
bambam262626

$7 MILLION dollars in foreign funds can not get Bachmann elected. How is Bachmann going to pay back all of these favors after she loses? Perhaps she can brew up a little Chinese tea.

October 13 2010 at 8:05 AM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bambam262626's comment
jmm8254

Are you ignoring George Soros' contributions to the Democratic Party? He is nothing more than an economic terrorist who is betting on the failure of the U.S. dollar. Interesting that he is contributing so much to the Democrats, isn't it?

October 13 2010 at 8:54 AM Report abuse +18 rate up rate down Reply
fridleygal

Bachmann doesn't drive me crazy. She embarrasses me to tears! I have friends and family out of state who are more than happy to tell me what idiotic thing she has said. She may represent the 6th District but last I heard, Minnesota is tacked to her name. We used to get credit for being wise up here in the North country. Not so much anymore!

October 13 2010 at 7:55 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
furio

The Democrats are in no way part of the heritage of the USA! Democrats are against the Constitution of 1787 and its Bill of Rights! Democrats are George Soros and Barack Hussein Obama! Democrats represent groups of people living in insular ZIP codes. Democrats are essentially outside all American values! And of course we all know, no Christian or Jew can ever be a Democrat. How is National Socialism and Marxism American???

October 13 2010 at 6:26 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to furio's comment

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