What Bachmann is thinking about as she considers a run for president

Rep. Bachmann was honored at the 2011 Time 100 Gala ceremony in April.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michele Bachmann at the 2011 Time 100 Gala ceremony in April.

WASHINGTON — As she mulls over a run for the White House, Rep. Michele Bachmann says she is spending time reading books about presidential campaigns — particularly ones that explore the darker side of campaigns.

Bachmann is expected to announce sometime in the next month that she’ll form an exploratory committee for president — senior aides say she’s “very likely to run” — and the congresswoman told MinnPost that if she does indeed run, she will retain her House seat throughout at least the primary campaign.

In interviews with MinnPost, Bachmann said that as she prepares to make her decision, she’s gone cover-to-cover on “The Politician,” a book written by a former John Edwards staffer that details the lengths Edwards went to in order to cover up an affair even as his wife was fighting a recurrence of cancer.

She also read “Game Change,” an in-depth account by a pair of veteran political reporters of the 2008 election that allegedly convinced South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s wife that she wanted no part of a presidential bid.

“‘Game Change’ is a book that is very difficult to put down, at least I found it difficult to put down, and it gives a person pause,” Bachmann said. “But the other thing that it does, I think, is it informed me of what I don’t want to do.

“I’m still a human being, and I still have the values that I stand for, and it tells me that the pursuit of a brass ring, the pursuit of an office, is not worth losing your health, losing your marriage, losing your integrity. That I’m not willing to do.”

Still, according to core members of Team Bachmann, rather than considering “if” she should run, running has for months now been the default decision, while the prospective candidate and her family sought validation that it was the right move.

Bachmann staffers wouldn’t say exactly where or when she might make that announcement, and in an interview with MinnPost earlier this month, Bachmann wasn’t saying.

“You’re going to find out,” she said, when I asked about the announcement on her presidential decision. “It’ll be done in a way that, I think, you’ll really enjoy.”

How are you going to do it?

“I’ll let you know.”

Bachmann has trips to Iowa and New Hampshire scheduled later this month.

Non-traditional campaign
So what would that campaign look like?

Bachmann has long said that any campaign announcement would be early enough to give her a shot at really competing in the Iowa Straw Poll, this August in Ames. It’s a test of campaigns’ organizational skills and an early indicator of whether they can get activists to not just say they’re supportive, but actually take a weekend and drive to the middle of the state to stand and be counted.

She has taken some of the traditional steps — she was in New York City this week shopping a book deal with a targeted publication date of September.

And her camp expects her to be able to compete with the best of the other campaigns in the money race.

She took in more than $13 million for her House race in 2009-10, most in the country for a House race, and much of that came from small donors outside of Minnesota. In the first quarter of 2011, her $2.2 million between her PAC and congressional campaign was actually more than Mitt Romney pulled in.

But now, in the second quarter of 2011, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Earlier this week, Romney raised $10.25 million in a single day. Tim Pawlenty last night hosted hundreds at an up-to-a-$2,000-a-plate fundraiser in Minneapolis. Both campaigns have highlighted articles describing the big-money names endorsing them.

Bachmann, in contrast, is a fundraiser who specializes in small donations. Sometimes that works, and President Obama is a testament to that. Most often, however, support a candidate thinks they can count on fails to materialize and the campaign flames out.

With that in mind, Bachmann’s camp has been circulating fundraising appeals designed to raise money off her indecision. “If you want me to continue fighting the big-government Obama agenda in the U.S. House of Representatives, please make a generous donation of $25,” Bachmann wrote in a recent appeal to supporters. “If you want me to seek the Presidency, please make a donation of $50 or even $100 to let me know I can count on you.”

If she decides to run, Bachmann will start off with a campaign apparatus that looks nothing like that of the front-running Romney or Pawlenty, both of whom have dozens of staffers already on the payroll.

For Bachmann, the only state where she currently has a publicly-identifiable “organization,” as such, is Iowa. The first in the nation caucus state also happens to be where Bachmann was born — she tells crowds there that it’s good to be back “home” — and it’s where much of her focus after an announcement would go.

Bachmann’s campaign in the Hawkeye State is led by Kent Sorenson, a state senator heavily enmeshed with the Tea Party. Wes Enos, political director for Mike Huckabee’s successful 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign, is on board as well.

Bachmann’s closest ally in the House is Iowa Rep. Steve King, and while he’s still officially neutral in the 2012 race, he said he’d endorse a candidate after the Iowa Straw Poll. If Bachmann gets that endorsement, she’d have access to a massive organization under King, the loudest voice in that state among movement conservatives like herself.

Elsewhere, the campaign structure is far more nebulous. In New Hampshire, the only person I’ve seen who has been publicly identified with some sort of Bachmann title is Jeff Chidester, a talk radio host there who is acting as her spokesman.

Bachmann, however, says she is building an organization in each of the first three states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and that they’ll be ready to go if and when she enters the race.

The downsides of added scrutiny
As evidenced by the political books Bachmann says she’s been reading, a run for president invites tons more scrutiny from the national press, and Bachmann is already seeing the beginnings of that.

Earlier this week, the right-leaning Daily Caller took fresh aim at parts of her record that have been known about in Minnesota for some time. Among the items the Daily Caller singled out as problematic:

Bachmann’s support of designated funding, or earmarks, in the Minnesota Legislature, and her request to continue such transportation-related requests, despite a congressional ban on earmarks.

Her pardon request for Frank Vennes, Jr., which she now says was a mistake.

Federal farm subsidies for the Bachmann family farm, which she has a stake in, and state money to her husband Marcus’ psychology clinics.

Defections from former staffers like Ron Carey, her former chief of staff who told the AP she wasn’t ready to be president and then told TIME magazine he wouldn’t back her for president because “I’ve been to Oz and I’ve looked behind the curtain.”

It’s not like any of that is hard to find either. All of it meticulously catalogued at the Dump Bachmann blog, a treasure trove of ready-made opposition research and aggregation that’s currently fourth on the results page when you search Google for “Michele Bachmann.”

No doubt other campaigns already have that page bookmarked.

Encouragement to run
If elected, Bachmann would become the first female president in U.S. history, of course, and her husband Marcus would be the first-ever “First Gentleman.” He’s a constant presence at her side as she travels the early states and takes a very active role as a political adviser.

And in this context, Marcus Bachmann has been one of the biggest supporters of Michele Bachmann running for president.

“Marcus is very positive,” she said. “He was far more positive, I think, about it than I was, but we’ve tracked each other fairly closely on this.”

“But I think because this is such a momentous decision, we’ve really given ourselves the necessity of taking the time that it requires to think through a decision like this, so we’ve been very deliberate.”

Certainly the field that is developing has created an ideological opening for Bachmann. Nate Silver, the political data and polling expert at The New York Times, charted out each of the candidates on the ideological spectrum using bubbles the size of their respective influence.

Bachmann was listed as a “conservative outsider,” along with Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Jim DeMint and Herman Cain. Well, DeMint isn’t running. Neither is Huckabee, who would have been a formidable opponent having won the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

Not surprisingly, once Huckabee bowed out, Silver rated Bachmann among those most likely to gain. If Palin stays out, logically, she benefits even more.

Once Huckabee bowed out, Chief of Staff Andy Parrish said the phone lines of her congressional office practically “melted down” with conservative activists telling her to run.

Though I can’t independently validate the nature of those inquiries, on a recent unannounced visit to her D.C. office I found three people manning the lines (most offices have just one), struggling to handle the sheer volume of incoming calls.

Staying in her seat
If (or, now more likely, when) she does decide to get in, it won’t be at the expense of her House seat. Bachmann said she has firmly decided to keep hold of the seat through at least the nomination process and would like to run again for the House should her presidential aspirations go unfulfilled.

“That’s something that we have talked about and we have considered,” Bachmann said. “Whenever I do anything I run to win that office, and if I make the decision to run for president I would be running to win that office — not just the primary, but also the general.

“I also recognize that it is very high stakes, and there are a lot of people in, and so that’s something that we’ve considered is that I could always run for the House.”

Maintaining her position in the House comes with a certain number of advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, she would keep her title, paycheck and easy access to the Washington press corps. All she has to do in D.C. to command a gaggle of reporters is stroll off the House floor and boom, instantly she’s surrounded by press.

On the down side, she’ll have to physically be in Washington for votes while her opponents are out canvassing the early primary states. While the Mitt Romneys and Tim Pawlentys of the world can be in Iowa and New Hampshire seven days a week if they want, Bachmann would be limited to weekends and days when the House is on recess.

Instead, her target for deciding whether or not to run for a fourth term in the House is around May 22 of next year, when candidates can begin filing for the fall election with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

“By that point, obviously, we’ll know who the nominee is. One thing I would be committed to, if I was the nominee, I’d be committed to making sure that there is a successor in that seat, and I’d be committed to that.

“But at the same time, if this is something that wouldn’t come to fruition, I would like to continue serving in Congress.”

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/19/2011 - 10:58 am.

    All she really needs is a spotlight and she is happy while the rest of us suffer through her limited talent.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/19/2011 - 11:27 am.

    All I can say is “Run Bachmann, run!” Maybe you can have Newt as a running partner, now that Trump has pulled out.

  3. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 05/19/2011 - 11:52 am.

    Presumably God still needs to weigh in on her plans, if He isn’t too busy after Saturday.

  4. Submitted by chuck holtman on 05/19/2011 - 11:53 am.

    I don’t understand at all the notion of Ms Bachmann’s painstaking deliberation, as reviewed by this article at unpleasant and pathological length. I thought God tells Ms Bachmann if he has chosen her to run or not. Would she refuse God’s will, however he decides? Doesn’t she just need to pack a suitcase and wait to hear? Seriously.

  5. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 05/19/2011 - 12:50 pm.

    I like the idea of a Bachman-Gingrich ticket. A couple of mean-spirited, poorly informed politicians or dissemblers, to use a more diplomatic term, vying for the highest office in the land and totally ignoring facts.
    Shouldn’t she be reading books in interna-
    tional studies or the basics about the U.S. governing system, or economics to figure out a budget?

  6. Submitted by Cecil North on 05/19/2011 - 12:54 pm.

    Don’t worry, Michele, your integrity will not suffer anything in the future that it hasn’t already suffered in the past. Please run !!!!

  7. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 05/19/2011 - 01:01 pm.

    Why is Bachmann devouring every book she can on the “darker side” of campaigns? Is she seeking guidance on how to hide things like affairs? What does Bachmann have to hide? Might have been a good question for a reporter to ask her.

    As for campaign staff, Bachmann doesn’t need campaign staff like Pawlenty and Romney. She has taxpayer-paid campaign staff on her congressional office. That’s clear from the fact that she has three phone lines–and staffers to man them–answering calls about her political campaign at her congressional office. Many of her staffers collect two paychecks simultaneously–one from the campaign and one from the taxpayers–so it’s virtually impossible to determine who’s working on what. Did it occur to the reporter to ask why congressional staffers are fielding calls about her campaign? They obviously weren’t needed for constituent work.

  8. Submitted by Carol Allis on 05/19/2011 - 01:58 pm.

    Why keep her seat? What on earth has she done for her district?

  9. Submitted by Meir Chris Bargeron on 05/19/2011 - 02:57 pm.

    Congrats on having your story picked up by Salon!


  10. Submitted by Randall Ryder on 05/19/2011 - 06:57 pm.

    Why is there no discussion of her inability to serve her district? What legislation has she ever had passed on Congress? What are her achievements in Washington? Doesn’t integrity include doing your job as a representative of the people?

  11. Submitted by Sheryl christina on 05/19/2011 - 07:25 pm.

    You go girl!

    Again, is this a liberal site?

  12. Submitted by will lynott on 05/19/2011 - 11:15 pm.

    My guess–she’ll announce that God told her she’s more valuable in the 6th district. And God knows, there’s no way she can win any election outside that gerrymandered district.

  13. Submitted by William Pappas on 05/20/2011 - 06:00 am.

    Bacmann reads books?! I thought she made it up as she went along. What use are books when you make up your own facts and simply ignore real facts? I wonder how she is going to square the support of the 700 million dollar St. Croix River bridge to nowhere that is three times more expensive than any in Minnesota history but mysteriously rests in her own district. Gee, that’s not a pork barrell project. That really show’s a keen capcity to spend the public’s money wisely and judiciously. Michelle has never written and passed a significant piece of legislation in her entire career. It would be ironic if her bill to gut the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passes thereby enabling one of the most wasteful pork projects in recent national memory (twice as expensive as Ted Steven’s bridge to nowhere). It would mark her signature achievment as a legislator at any level. By the way, can you post Michelle’s book list?

  14. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/20/2011 - 09:31 am.

    Karl (#7) —

    I believe using government employees to carry on a campaign from one’s government office is illegal — or at least against Congressional ethics rules.

    Or maybe that’s true only after someone has officially declared, has rented campaign office space and has hired employees using campaign funds.

  15. Submitted by Rich Gramling on 05/23/2011 - 02:35 pm.

    “What Bachmann is thinking about as she considers a run for president.” As any good trial lawyer would say, “Objection, your honor. Assumes a fact not in evidence.”

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