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Michele Bachmann must overcome debt burden in re-election bid

WASHINGTON — Bachmann’s first order of business is convincing small donors she’s still worthy of their support.

Bachmann raised more than $10.1 million for her presidential bid from contributors often donating no more than a hundred dollars each. She has one of the best grass-roots fundraising organizations of any House member — they made Bachmann’s 2010 re-election campaign the richest in history in 2010 — but the question is whether they’re willing to finance both a House re-election bid and Bachmann’s debt service after donating to a short-lived long-shot presidential campaign.

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“One of the benefits of the presidential run was the significant expansion of her already impressive donor base,” he said in an email. “Avoiding specifics, I can tell you that the last fortnight has demonstrated the productivity of that new list. We remain highly confident in our fundraising.”

But Bachmann was already a national fundraiser before her presidential run, often attracting larger donations nationally than in Minnesota: 69 percent of contributions larger than $200 came from out-of-state donors in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Beyond that, much of Bachmann’s base consists of relentlessly small donors who have supported her because she was a rising tea party figure. Now that she’s balancing a House re-election campaign and the remnants of her presidential bid, she must convince those small donors that she’s not only deserving of their normal campaign contributions, but actually worthy of more financial support than they would have given in the past. That’s not an easy argument to make, given the embarrassing ending to her presidential campaign.

“When she ran for Congress two years ago, she was a rising star and people want to give money to rising stars,” Hamline University law professor David Schultz said of Bachmann’s 2010 run, when she raised $13.5 million. “She clearly doesn’t have the same star quality that she had two years ago that made it a lot easier to raise a lot of money.”

Also at play: the make-up of Bachmann’s district. A state court panel will unveil new congressional district lines later this month, and Bachmann’s 6th district needs to shed 100,000 voters. If the new lines are overly favorable to Republicans and scare off viable DFL competition, Bachmann might struggle to convince donors that she truly needs their support. But if Democrats are able to field a reputable challenger (or, worst case for her, if Bachmann is redistricted into neighboring Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum’s district), it could inspire larger contributions.

“If she’s in a really intense, bitterly fought battle, that might make it easier for her to make money,” Schultz said.

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