WASHINGTON — It was a Minnesota double feature in Politico this weekend.
The Capitol Hill publication previewed the re-election contests for Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Michele Bachmann, summarizing Washington political observers’ bullish attitudes, for now, on both Franken’s chances and the possibility of a tight race in the 6th District.
Franken, the former “Saturday Night Live” star and liberal talk show host, worked overtime to put himself in this position. Studiously following the Hillary Clinton Senate playbook, Franken has kept his head down, largely avoided national press and focused on populist issues like privacy and consumer protection. He has cultivated a reputation as a serious lawmaker and amassed a formidable war chest.
Also of help: Minnesota — genuinely purple a decade ago — has taken on a more bluish hue. And the state Republican Party is reeling, debt-ridden and seeking to find its way after its Ron Paul-affiliated Senate nominee lost to Sen. Amy Klobuchar by 34 points in November. …
Republicans hope national atmospherics, specifically the growing unpopularity of Obamacare and the scandals enveloping Obama, will help put Minnesota in play. They believe 2014 will be a bad year for incumbents in general, and that while Franken is no doubt the favorite at the moment, the race is not lost for the GOP.
Bachmann’s political standing at home has been tenuous before, despite occupying a district that tilts conservative. In 2008, weeks after a damaging TV appearance in which she said then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “may have anti-American views,” she defeated her Democratic foe by just 3 percentage points.
And then came her 2012 race against Graves, when she found herself on defense over skipping congressional votes in order to wage a quixotic presidential campaign.
In one sign of her precarious standing, Bachmann recently began running TV commercials highlighting her role in sponsoring legislation to repeal Obama’s health care bill — an unusually early time in the election season to start airing ads. And Republicans say they’re assured by the congresswoman’s busy in-district schedule — as of late, she seems more focused on holding town halls than on making headlines. …
Still, Graves’s road to unseating Bachmann is a narrow one. Without Obama on the ballot, he could have a harder time motivating Democratic voters to come out to the polls.
And for all of Bachmann’s vulnerabilities, she has the benefit of running in a 6th District that’s the most conservative in the state.
Race previews 18 months out from Election Day are really stage-setters more than anything else, and Minnesota politics geeks won’t find too much new material in either piece. But the stories detail the conventional wisdom at the moment — the question is how that will change over the next year and a half.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.