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Tinklenberg vows to go to Dem primary if necessary to get another crack at Bachmann

Former state Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg will seek the Dem endorsement for Congress from the 6th District -- the seat held by Michele Bachmann -- but he says he will not pledge to abide by the endorsement and will be prepared to run in a primary.

This announcement follows the news that broke here Wednesday that state Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud has decided to seek the Dem nomination. (Officially, in a non-confirmation confirmation of that scooplet, Clark said that she "is not ready to formally announce her candidacy for Congress.")

At the time, I sought reaction from the candidates who were already in that race -- Tinklenberg, who has sought the seat twice before and was the Dem nominee in 2008, and Dr. Maureen Reed, former chair of the U of M Board of Regents. I asked Tinklenberg campaign manager Dana Houle whether Tinklenberg would enter the race for endorsement as an abider or whether he would be prepared to run in a primary if he lost the endorsement. On Wednesday, I didn't get an answer, but now Team Tinklenberg has decided to state publicly that:

"El Tinklenberg is the best candidate in the field, and the only one who can defeat Michele Bachmann.  He will work to earn the endorsement at the DFL convention. But our goal is to win in November, and if El is forced to fight through a three-way primary to take on Michele Bachmann, that's a battle he's ready to fight, and a fight we will win."

Of course, the election is 16 months away and there will be many bounces of the ball, but this is an interesting moment, especially at this formative stage of an upshaping intra-party contest.

A special passion about Bachmann

Dems have a special passion about defeating Bachmann. They dislilke her so intensely, and consider her such an embarrassment that they have trouble understanding her political strengths and how well she seems to fit the conservative and -- especially -- pro-life 6th District. The executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which promotes Dems in all 435 districts, recently named Bachmann as one of the party's top eight targets for 2010.

Nationally and locally, Dems will want the best candidate to take Bachmann on, but also will want a unified party for the entire summer and fall of 2010, not a three-way primary that will leave the distracted and weakened eventual winner unable to concentrate on making the case against Bachmann until September. It's an old story for Minnesota Democrats (and one of the reasons they would like to move up the date of the primary, and one of the reasons Republicans won't cooperate with that plan).

The abiding issue

Tinklenberg sought the endorsement for the same office the last two times, both times pledging to abide. He lost the endorsement to Patty Wetterling in 2006, then kept his pledge and dropped out of the race (which was really kinda sporting of him, considering that Wetterling had actually encouraged Tinklenberg to run for the House because she was running for the Senate). Tarryl Clark, by the way, gave a speech at that convention on behalf of Wetterling, during which she referred to Bachmann as a "devil in a blue dress."

Then Tinklenberg won the endorsement easily in 2008 on the first ballot, faced no serious primary opposition, and lost the general election to Bachmann by 3 percentage points.

Word circulated soon after Election Day that Tinklenberg planned to try again in 2010 and that this time he would commit to the race early, spend the whole cycle on it and hire a nationally respected campaign manager. This he did when he hired Houle, who has managed two underdog Dems to victories over Repub House incumbents. Houle has moved here for the duration.

Houle wrote of his own special passion when, in bidding farewell to those who read his work on the Daily Kos, he wrote:

"For the next 16 months, my obligations lie in doing whatever I can to elect Elwyn Tinklenberg to Congress and relieving Michele Bachmann of her duties so she can spend more time warning Americans of the threats posed by the US Census Bureau."

Reed, whose previous candidacy for lieutenant governor was on the Independence Party ticket, made an early announcement that she would seek the nominations of both the IP and the Dems. Tinklenberg, who has enjoyed strong trade union support and has a longer history as a Democrat, seemed still the favorite for the Dem endorsement. Reed is running hard and raising money fast and it seemed likely that she would pursue a primary strategy. (When I asked her Wednesday whether she would abide by the endorsement, she replied: "Plan A is to get the endorsement. Plan B is to make Plan A work.")

Traditionally, candidates stand little chance of winning a DFL endorsement unless they pledge to abide by the endorsement. Reed's statement would be taken by endorsement hard-liners as cute, but way short of a pledge to abide.

Although Tinklenberg would have some strength in an endorsement fight, I believe Clark would be the endorsement frontrunner on the day she announces, especially if she comes in as an abider. (Until she announces, I doubt I can get her to say how she views the abiding issue, but I'll try.)

Now here's Tinklenberg apparently threatening to go to a primary if Clark gets the endorsement.

Could it be an effort to dissuade Clark from getting into the race? Perhaps.

If Clark gets in and it starts to look like there will really be a hard-fought three-way primary, I predict the Dem establishment will put substantial pressure on the candidates to abide by the endorsement, whatever they have said during the run-up, on pain of excommunication and eternal damnation.

But the Repubs seem much better at that game. In '06, Bachmann's first congressional campaign, there was a serious four-way endorsement contest. The party cigars organized an event one Friday shortly before the convention at which all four contestants were supposed to sign a giant blow-up of an actual contract requiring the signatories to abide by the endorsement. One of the four (it was Rep. Phil Krinkie) didn't show up. An -- ahem -- scheduling conflict, I believe. But over the weekend, it must have been explained to him more clearly and he signed it. Bachmann won the endorsement handily and faced no primary opposition.

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Comments (9)

Tinklenberg vows to go to Dem primary if necessary to get another crack at Bachmann

Which is why to a lot of people Democrats appear to employ a strategy designed to lose elections. Tinklenberg has demonstrated an ability to lose to Michele Bachmann under the most favorable conditions for Democratic candidates. Why not give someone else a chance?

I'm skeptical that *any* Democrat can win in the Sixth. Approximately 96-97% of incumbents are reelected and as a second-term incumbent Bachmann will be less vulnerable than she was in 2008. In addition, Democrats won't have Obama at the top of the ticket to get out the vote. Moreover, the party in the White House typically loses seats in the first off-year election after winning the presidency. Thus, Democratic prospects in the 6th District will be bleaker in 2010 than they were in 2006 and 2008.

Of course, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Rep. Bachmann will crash and burn in the next year, but it seems to me the more outrageous her inflammatory political rhetoric, the more delusional her conspiracy theories, and the more florid her political paranoia, the more popular she becomes with her base.

Hope springs eternal, but any Democratic primary challenge will be a sure recipe for disaster in 2010. As noted in the article, it will pit Democrat against Democrat until mid-September, leaving less than two months to campaign against Bachmann.

I remain convinced that the most viable strategy to defeat Bachmann is to knock her out of contention in the open Republican primary, but that cannot happen if there are contested Democratic races in the 6th District or gubernatorial races. More information at the link below:

I agree with Hiram.

Elwin has had more than enough chances to go after this seat. Last year, Bachmann was as vulnerable as ever...and he still couldn't get it done. Let Tarryl Clark have a shot at it. I think she will bring more excitement and energy to the race.

And I hope that Elwin (and/or other third party candidates) will not stay in the race and spread out the number of people who would like to see Bachmann sent packing.

Good strategy by Mr. Tinklenberg. He forces Clark to decide if she really wants to give up her Senate seat because it's gone if she has to win a primary. He's already a nice fit for the district as a pro-life, pro-gun, fiscal conservative, besides the minister edge to counter Bachman's direct line to God.

"He's already a nice fit for the district as a pro-life, pro-gun, fiscal conservative, besides the minister edge to counter Bachman's direct line to God."

Presumably if Elwyn is a good fit for the district, he would win winnable elections there instead of losing them. The DFL should depart from it's longstanding practice, and choose candidates who can win, as oppose to those it knows will lose.

Seems to me that a woman running against Michelle would be a good fit. Tinklenberg shows a lack of dedication to a Democratic victory with his hedging on whether he would abide by the party endorsement.

People here don't have a very good memory of the 2008 election. The media didn't get on Bachmann's case until October of that year when she not only put her foot in her mouth, but her leg up to the naval. Frankly, it took a national news program before any journalist in this state had the guts to start putting into print the stupid stuff she did. Then they tasted the blood. If she had gotten the attention of the media in early September, El would have raised money at a more effective time when he could have done something with it. And no one was madder than the Independence Party chair about the Independence Party candidate. The IP endorsed El, but some former Republican decided that for $250 he could get his name in the paper jumped in and bled enough votes from El to cost him the election. I don't care if Reed gets the IP endorsement, it won't mean anything unless no one files for the seat.

"The media didn't get on Bachmann's case until October of that year when she not only put her foot in her mouth, but her leg up to the navel."

My memories of 2008 are both vivid and stark. Among them is a recollection of Michele Bachmann blowing up on national tv just before election day, and Elwyn unable to take advantage of it.

Elwyn is a loser. We know this from the series of his losses. Other candidates are untested, but they are also untried. Let's go with someone who has at least a chance of winning.

I agree that Elwin has had his chance, but if he insists in running in a primary then the other candidates will have to get their people out to vote.
If Tinklenberg wins the Primary I hope he puts together a better strategy and Campaign or he will lose again.
Now the important thing to do is find a way to discourage an Independent from entering the race.
It is the only way to defeat Bachman.