ST. CLOUD — At times, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann almost brought the old Methodist minister bursting out of El Tinklenberg.
The two major candidates for the 6th Congressional District debated over the lunch hour today at the new library here. It was not a friendly debate.
Both Bachmann, the Republican, and Tinklenberg, the Democrat, who also has the Independence Party endorsement, turned red at times. They fidgeted, waiting for their turn. This was the debate for all those who thought the presidential debates were boring.
But it was Tinklenberg, once a minister, who was the more agitated, the more eager to counter Bachmann positions he considered extreme.
For example, Bachmann made reference to Olga Franco, the woman who crashed into a school bus killing four children last February, as an example of what happens when illegals are in the country.
Tinklenberg was stunned. His hand began to quiver as he waited his turn to speak.
“It is untoward to exploit this tragedy,” Tinklenberg said, his voice filled with righteous anger.
Most in the crowd of 150 people seemed to agree with the challenger.
Bachmann, though, was undeterred.
“You should hear the things my colleagues (in the Congress) have to say about the tragedies in their states,” said Bachmann. “… They’re bringing in disease and violence and every sort of difficulty.”
Tinklenberg looked at her, then the audience, then back at her. He said nothing.
Second debate leaves out IP’s Anderson
This was only the second time the two have debated. (Bob Anderson, who will appear on the ballot as the Independence Party candidate, was not invited because Tinklenberg has the IP endorsement.)
In this debate, Bachmann was, well, Bachmann. She was extreme. Sure of herself. Absolute on the following issues: Gasoline prices are coming down, because the Congress and the president have lifted the ban on offshore drilling. Tinklenberg, considered a moderate by most Democrats, is “just another tax-and-spend liberal.” Taxes are too high. “The Bush-Democrat bailout package is a bad idea.” A “Democrat” Congress and a “Democrat” president would not only raise taxes and kill small business, but it would even tell you what kind of a light bulb to use.
This light bulb reference was to statements from many political and environmental leaders urging Americans to switch from energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs to more energy-efficient LED and fluorescent lamps.
“We have an abundance of energy,” Bachmann said at one point, as she spoke of oil in ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and oil shale in Colorado.
“We (Republicans) knew this financial crisis was coming,” Bachmann said at another point. “But Democrats blocked reform.”
Tinklenberg tried to point out that there has been a Republican president for eight years and for six of those years, Republicans controlled the Congress.
But Bachmann, who is scheduled to make her third recent appearance tonight on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” was undeterred.
Tarryl Clark, a DFL Senate leader from St. Cloud, was among those in the crowd. After the debate was over, she stopped by a table where the media were seated.
“Now you know what we heard for six years,” said Clark, referring to Bachmann’s time in the Minnesota Senate before she won the 6th District House seat two years ago.
How difficult is it to debate Bachmann?
Again, go back to the portion of the debate in which the candidates talked about immigration.
Moments after Tinklenberg had said that he agreed with President Bush’s immigration reform package, which Bachmann opposed, and seconds after he had said the first thing that must be done “is to secure our borders,” Bachmann spoke.
“There is a stark contrast between us on the issue of immigration,” Bachmann said. “He says he opposes securing our borders …”
There was a murmur in the crowd, which mostly kept silent during the debate. A strange look of frustration crossed Tinklenberg’s face. Hadn’t he just said the United States must secure its borders?
No agreement on issues
There is nothing these two agreed on. Their styles couldn’t have been more different.
Bachmann’s voice was filled with optimistic confidence. Tinklenberg tried to counter with a bipartisan tone.
For example, after she bashed the bailout packages, Tinklenberg spoke.
“When you get in the kind of crisis we’re in,” he said, “it’s no time for ideological discussion. We must be able to work together.”
Step back from the debate for a moment. Up until the last few days, few thought it mattered what Tinklenberg had to say. This was considered a safe seat for Bachmann.
But now there is some hope among the Tinklenberg crowd, perhaps a bit of nervousness on the part of Bachmann supporters.
The Democratic National Congressional Committee finally has decided it will help Tinklenberg in his uphill race. The DNCC has released a poll showing that Bachmann holds only a 4-point lead, 42 to 38, in this race.
Independents, of course, hold the key.
But as the two debated, a question loomed: How will people in the 6th hear either of the candidates’ messages? Although a local AM station carried the debate, the Twin Cities media don’t devote much time or space to the race in the 6th. Neither campaign has been doing much television advertising, although both have a pile of money to spend in the last days.
There were just 150 people in the room Thursday, and the two have only one more debate scheduled: a 30-minute shot on public radio a few days before the election.
But for roughly 80 minutes today, none of that mattered. The two candidates blasted away with passion on issues so often ignored in political campaigns.
Another example: The subject had wandered into the whole notion of class warfare.
Bachmann was upset that Tinklenberg and his ilk would raise taxes on the wealthiest.
“Liberals like my opponent like to bash the successful,” said Bachmann.
Tinklenberg tried to counter with stats.
“In 1980,” he said, starting calmly, “the top 1 percent in the country held 8 percent of the wealth. Today, the top 1 percent has 20 percent of the wealth.”
The old minister’s passion started creeping into Tinklenberg’s voice.
“The income transfer has come out of the pockets of the middle class,” he said, his voice rising. “Class warfare. That’s talked about only when it goes one way. We’ve got to change it.”
Back and forth they went, but never the twain did meet.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.