Bachmann-Clark race shaping up to be most expensive in the nation

WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s 6th District is a frontrunner to be the most expensive campaign in America this year when it’s all said and done, according to campaign finance experts and a MinnPost analysis of fundraising reports so far this cycle.

This despite the fact that every national analyst says that right now there are dozens more competitive races elsewhere in the country.

Almost $7 million has been channeled into the race so far, according to Federal Election Commission reports through the first quarter as well as individual campaigns’ estimates for their second quarters.

Tarryl Clark
Tarryl Clark

DFL challenger Tarryl Clark announced a haul of $910,000. Rep. Michele Bachmann followed by revealing she’d pulled in $1.7 million.

“I think this is going to be one of the most expensive House races in the country — particularly one without a self-funder,” said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.

“Bachmann has a national profile that allows both the congresswoman and Clark to raise money across the country. That’s why we’re seeing so much money poured into the race.”

When trying to wrap one’s mind around exactly how much money has been raised in the 6th District, consider the following:

• $6.86 million was raised by all candidates in the 6th District over the course of the 2008 election

• This year’s haul has already passed that.

• There are still four months left until Election Day.

So far, $6.93 million has been raised in the 6th District. That number counts all candidates’ receipts, including those like Maureen Reed no longer in the race.

Past as prologue
In the last election cycle, the median cost of a congressional campaign was just over $1 million.

That sum in any other district in Minnesota would make one a formidable candidate. In the 6th, pshaw.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

As of the end of the first quarter, Minnesota’s 6th was the eighth-most expensive Congressional race in the country, counting all candidates. But that number is actually a bit low when you break it down.

Above it are three districts that had special elections which have already concluded and a fourth (Illinois 10th) in which the incumbent is running for Senate. Plus, many of the seats on that list, above and below, are safe seats in November where the real action is in the primary, meaning that the money is likely to dry up between now and Election Day.

To filter out the stagnant races and keep a predictive eye toward the future, let’s look at the tallies for just those candidates still in their races.

Now, Minnesota’s 6th comes third on the list, behind South Carolina’s 2nd (home to Joe “You Lie” Wilson) and New York’s 1st, a Democratic-held swing district in eastern Long Island.

Consider only the most recent fully-reported quarter, which ended on March 31. Bachmann outraised 434 members of the House of Representatives, and the only one to beat her (Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip) is unlikely to have a competitive race.

“Congresswoman Bachmann has been targeted by [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her liberal special interest allies this fall, and we’re preparing to fight back against an expected onslaught of misleading ads and distortions of Congresswoman Bachmann’s record,” said Bachmann campaign manager Gina Countryman.

Meanwhile, Tarryl Clark is shattering records for a Minnesota House challenger left, right and center. She broke the million dollar barrier quicker than any in history — in fact, she tallied $2 million in less time than it took any other challenger to amass $1 million.

“Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has made this a national, big money race,” said Zach Rodvold, Clark’s campaign manager. “Her two years of traveling the country and headlining high dollar fundraisers is clearly paying off for her campaign. It hasn’t paid off for her constituents, however, who continue to suffer from some of the highest rates of foreclosure and unemployment in the state.

“Over 24,000 individuals have donated to Tarryl Clark’s campaign for Congress because they believe she is the candidate who can defeat Michele Bachmann and bring real representation to Minnesota’s 6th District. This is a powerful grassroots base of support that continues to grow.

“While we expect to be outraised and outspent by Bachmann and her big money machine in this campaign, our unprecedented support means that we will be competitive on the ground and over the airwaves. We are in a strong position to win in November.”

A shot at number one
There will be a better view of the national picture as it currently stands next week, when FEC reports come due.

But analysts say all the likeliest contenders for No. 1 feature a common theme: An outspoken incumbent and an opposition party desperate to knock them out at any cost.

The 6th District’s money haul is really a continuation from the last weeks of the 2008 campaign, said Bob Benenson, senior elections analyst for CQ Weekly.

Money poured into then-DFL challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg’s campaign after Bachmann’s now-infamous appearance on “Hardball with Chris Matthews”, where she suggested some members of Congress ought to be investigated to see if they hold anti-American views.

Almost $1.5 million later, a sleepy race woke up and became one of the closest in the country.

Indeed, it seems to have become commonplace for money to flow in from all corners of the country to oppose or support outspoken members of Congress.

“We saw this kind of phenomenon in the home stretch of [Bachmann’s] 2008 race, and also in situations like in Joe Wilson’s South Carolina district after his ‘You lie!’ outburst, when money gushed into both his and his opponent’s campaign account,” Benenson said. “Alan Grayson, the outspoken Florida Democrat, also has amassed a huge treasury by positioning himself as the defender of truth, justice and the American Way.”

Gonzales agreed that Wilson and Grayson’s seats were among the most likely to challenge the 6th for being most expensive this fall.

But if Minnesota’s 6th does get to be the priciest, it may have to be without the large national cash infusions that will be relied on so heavily in other areas of the country.

It’s not to say that the race won’t get more intense going forward — with that much money it almost certainly will — but there are several races that right now are toss-ups, or listed as just barely leaning one way or the other. The House races in neighboring North and South Dakota, and the one to replace David Obey in the adjacent Wisconsin 7th, all fit that criteria.

Dollars from national party committees may be more useful there than in the cash-flush 6th.

“The race is going to have to get very close, I’d think, for the DCCC and major Democratic independent expenditure groups to invest a lot of money here,” Benenson said. “In other words, Clark better raise lots of money, because she’s likely to be pretty much on her own unless polls show the race closing up. [Democrats have] got too many brush fires to fight elsewhere this year.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 07/08/2010 - 11:42 am.

    Am I the only one who’s totally grossed out by these astronomical dollar amounts? This falls into the same category for me as athlete salaries.

    I understand that dollars have become a minimum essential, that they provide the big stick for clobbering the opponent. But I am increasingly uncomfortable with what appears to be the need to buy one’s political position.

    So what’s to be done? Campaign finance reform, writ large, and undoing the egregious work of the Supreme Court in that regard. This is not optional. It is the new essential.

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/08/2010 - 03:58 pm.

    I agree with Barbara Miller that the amounts of money needed to get elected in America are obscene.

    Shortening the cycle might help (England’s pre-election campaigning period is only six weeks long, for instance). Maybe some think tanks could take on the question.

  3. Submitted by Luke Soiseth on 07/08/2010 - 05:05 pm.

    Ooh, but this is good TV! It’s attracting big dollars not so much because the seat itself matters all that much, but because Bachmann is such a crazy funhouse of wackiness. Whether she’s claiming God told her to run for her seat, but only after she and her hubby fasted for three days (God wants you good n’ hungry before he speaks to you), giving W. the old Bachmann claw coupled with that crazed skeletor grin at the State of the Union, or hiding out in the bushes and spying on the gay rally, she knows how to make a show worth watching, which of course divides us into lovers and haters; but even haters love to watch her bring down the discourse, credibility and sanity on her side of the aisle.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/08/2010 - 09:16 pm.

    If Clark pulls this off, it would be the upset of the year. My heart is elsewhere but my money is on Congresswoman Bachmann.

  5. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 07/09/2010 - 07:12 am.

    Maybe someone should do an analysis of Bachmann’s contributions to see how many thousands she’s taken from con men on the lam. First Tom Petters associate and convicted felon Frank Vennes Jr., now Bobby Thompson, con man on the lam:

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