A month ago, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said she’s on board with a campaign plan to get gasoline prices back to $2 a gallon.
This scheme, which Republicans have dubbed the “No More Excuses Energy Act,” works like this: Just announce that the United States will starting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off U.S. coasts, throw in some new nuclear power plants, and prices will start falling toward $2, which is what they were just two years ago.
“Send a signal to the market that the United States is serious about exploring its own resources,” she said in talking about $2 gasoline.
Do people in the 6th Congressional District buy this sort of campaign talk?
El Tinklenberg, who called himself Elwyn before he started running against Bachmann, nodded his head gravely.
“She’s essentially saying oil companies would take a limited resource, flood the market with it and cut their profits in half,” Tinklenberg said. “The thing is, people want to believe it. They want to believe there’s a simple way out. She’s exploiting the real pain that people are feeling. $2 a gallon gasoline sounds so nice.”
So how do you compete against a candidate who comes just short of promising $2 gas?
John Woedele, who is helping on the Tinklenberg campaign, jumped into the conversation.
“We’re going to promise $1.99 gasoline,” Woedele said, jokingly.
Tinklenberg, the DFL-endorsed candidate in the race, turned very serious. He started talking about the sins of the past. “If we had moved forward even minimally with CAFÉ (fuel economy) standards years ago. . . .if we had become serious about mass transportation years ago. . . .”
He talked of the future. (“Conservation. . . .new energy sources. . . .”) Then we can move toward long-talked-about energy independence.
So which grabs you? $2 gas, along with no taxes. Or a long discussion about what it takes to get to energy independence sometime with programs that would take government mandates, not to mention taxpayer investment?
In a nutshell, this is what makes Bachmann such a difficult foe.
At this point, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has NOT put the 6th District in its “red to blue” category. Instead, it calls the district an “emerging” race for Democrats. The difference in categories is substantial: Democrats in “red to blue” districts receive financial and other resource help. Those in “emerging” districts receive pats on the back and encouraging words from the DCCC: “Go get ’em, buddy!”
But even if the DCCC isn’t convinced that Bachmann can be defeated after one term in Washington, Tinklenberg says he’s optimistic.
Recall, Bachmann defeated Patty Wetterling by 8 percentage points, 50 to 42. BUT there was a third candidate in the race, John Binkowski, of the Independence Party, who picked up 7.8 percent of the vote. This time around, the IPs endorsed Tinklenberg.
When you add Wetterling’s 127,144 votes and Binkowski’s 23,557 votes, Bachmann won the district by just 548 votes.
“Surely there are 548 people who have gone beyond the notion that everything is free,” said Tinklenberg.
There are other reasons Tinklenberg claims he is more optimistic than the DCCC about this race. (He’s a former Methodist minister. A pastor would never fib, right?)
Though he has raised far less than Wetterling did and badly trails Bachmann in raising cash, Tinklenberg claims the money signs aren’t bad. Bachmann reported raising $382,000 in the just-completed quarter and has $1.3 million on hand. Tinklenberg raised $272,000 in the quarter and has $225,000 on hand.
So where’s the good news for the challenger?
“He’s right where Tim Walz was two years ago,” said Woedele. (Walz knocked out incumbent Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht in the 1st District two years ago.)
Beyond that, the Tinklenberg supporters thought Bachmann, who does have a national constituency, would have raised even more money by now.
Tinklenberg says his campaign has enough cash to run a “strategic campaign.” That means far fewer television spots than the Wetterling-Bachmann race. Buying TV spots in the sprawling 6th District is a waste of money, Tinklenberg says. To hit suburban areas of the district, pols who want to do TV advertising have to buy expensive time in the metro market.
“Four of every five dollars spent on television advertising ends up taking your message to the wrong district,” said Tinklenberg, who said billboards and personal appearances are more effective in reaching voters in the 6th.
But his greatest strengths may be that he’s not nearly so liberal as Wetterling (he’s a mushy pro-lifer, for example). And he’s not a Republican in 2008.
“It’s such a different time than two years ago,” said Tinklenberg. “Social issues — abortion, guns, gay marriage — that had such an important role in the last election aren’t front and center now. Now, it’s economic issues. They’ve become very personal. Even people who have good jobs are nervous. We are living the Bush-Bachmann agenda.”
In fact, Bachmann isn’t bragging up her party label in this race. Instead, she is billing herself as a tax-cutting, fiscal conservative who feels our anxiety. Her website shows pictures of her with Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and there’s a photo of her standing with a lifesize cutout of Ronald Reagan.
But President Bush?
Nowhere to be seen.
“What people around the country know her for is embracing the president,” said Tinklenberg. “It’s a hard sell for her to come out as some sort of independent reformer.”