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The line forms in the middle for candidates eager to take on Michele Bachmann

With her confrontational style, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann seems to invite competition. And sure enough, the line of candidates ready to take on the 6th District lightning rod already is forming.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann

First in line is Maureen Reed, a physician, former chairwoman of the University of Minnesota regents and former 2006 Independence Party lieutenant governor candidate who ran with Peter Hutchinson. She’s also a former vice president of Health Partners. In other words, she’s no lightweight.

But soon after the words left her mouth that she was getting into the race, El Tinklenberg, who lost a close race to Bachmann on Nov. 4, said he plans to run again, too. His formal announcement will come in early summer, he said. But his website will be up and running soon, and he’ll begin the task of fundraising now.

Reed announced Wednesday that she will run for the 6th District seat and seek both the DFL and Independence Party endorsements. Tinklenberg had the endorsements of both parties last year and will again seek that double support.

Perhaps because the U.S. Senate race still isn’t completed, Reed’s announcement seems to come awfully early.

“I know to some it seems like campaigns go on and on,” Reed said in a telephone interview. “They do go on. But in some ways, I wish I could have started months ago. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Waiting for Tinklenberg?
Reed implied she had delayed her decision to announce because she was waiting for El Tinklenberg to decide on his plans. Tinklenberg, you’ll recall, is the moderate DFLer who raised tons of money in the final weeks of his campaign — thanks to Bachmann’s controversial “Hardball” TV comments — but ended up losing to Bachmann in a three-way race.

Because of Bachmann’s questioning of the patriotism of her congressional colleagues, Tinklenberg ended up with higher name recognition than he’d ever had in his political career.

Elwyn Tinklenberg
Elwyn Tinklenberg

He also ended up with a substantial surplus of money. As reported by MinnPost’s Blois Olson recently, Tinklenberg had $453,000 left at the end of his campaign. (The money poured in so late and so fast, that he couldn’t spend it all.) Of that, Tinklenberg gave $250,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and still has $183,503 left if he decides to run again.

“I met with El months ago,” Reed said, “and let him know I was interested in running. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do. So I decided to wait.”

Time passed. Tinklenberg didn’t get back to her with his plans. While she waited for Tinklenberg’s call, she kept talking to people.

“I was talking to DFLers, Independents and moderate Republicans,” she said. “They believe this is a winnable race.”

Reed staking out middle ground
Reed’s approach will be little different from Tinklenberg’s. She will offer herself as the candidate in the middle, a self-described “Blue Dog Democrat.”

That’s the same ground Tinklenberg tried to stake out in the conservative district. He had the endorsement of both the Independence Party and the DFL. He  was pro-gun and neither pro-life nor pro-choice. He was middle, middle, middle and still he lost.

Is he concerned the two are running from the same place?

“She’s starting from scratch,” said Tinklenberg.

He noted that her only political experience was “running against the DFL” team on the IP gubernatorial ticket, a ticket that garnered only about 6 percent of the vote.  In fairness, it should be noted that Tinklenberg was appointed Department of Transportation commissioner under an Independence Party governor, Jesse Ventura.

Dr. Maureen Reed
Dr. Maureen Reed

Many DFLers believe it wasn’t Tinklenberg’s stances on the issues that cost him the election. Rather, they believe he lost because his campaign lacked both focus and resources, until Bachmann’s mid-October interview with Chris Matthews on “Hardball.”

It should be noted that the campaigns of all losing candidates are always seen, by insiders, as poorly run.

Tinklenberg thinks everything will be different for him this time around. He believes he’ll have early support of the DCCC. The national party was not a factor in the 6th District race until the final weeks of his last campaign. He’s earned that support. He contributed some of his surplus campaign money to the campaign of Democrat Scott Murphy in the recent special election congressional race in New York. He also believes his name recognition is far greater from the last race.
“We’ve established credibility both nationally and within the district,” Tinklenberg said. “Delegates (at the endorsing convention) will respond to that.” 

The fact is, Bachmann obviously presents unique challenges.

Challenge 1: Bachmann nearly lost an election she had in the bag by doing that “Hardball” interview.  The lesson most pols would have taken from that experience would have been to keep their mouths shut and their heads down. Not Bachmann. A week doesn’t go by that she isn’t doing a nationally television or radio interview. Those sessions often include wildly controversial statements. But they don’t seem to hurt her.

“When everybody’s watching you, somebody will find fault with something you have to say,” said Michelle Marston, who runs Bachmann’s campaign office. “We can’t help what the press focuses on. She does a telephone town hall meeting once a week. Overwhelmingly, people are saying, ‘Keep fighting for us. Stop them from spending money. The people from Santa Barbara can think what they want; we’re concerned about what the people in the 6th think.”

In fact, her views, which agitate so many, have made her a money-raising machine.

As Olson reported in his recent MinnPost piece, Bachmann was the top fundraiser of everyone in the Minnesota congressional delegation.

On the other hand, some of the statements Bachmann makes so agitate those on the left that whoever runs against her will have a chance to raise money fast, too.  

Challenge 2: Bachmann never has lost the devotion of her base, the social conservatives from fundamentalist churches.

Where does Reed stand on socially conservative issues, such as abortion, gun rights and gay marriage?  

For the moment, she’s not saying.

“I want to concentrate on the things that matter most to people day in and day out,” Reed said. “The economy, health care, jobs. There will come a time to go into detail on a whole range of issues.”

There’s a bit of contradiction in Reed’s lack of comment on her positions. Right after saying she wasn’t yet ready to talk about her stances on hot-button issues, she explained how she will deal with them.

“What is important is that you are authentic and people know where you stand and don’t bob and weave,” she said.

Clearly, Reed does not want to get into either attacking or ridiculing Bachmann.

“My reason to run is that the real issues of real people, the real problems, are not being addressed,” Reed said when asked about Bachmann. “What I hear and know about people in the district is that they are losing jobs and homes. Businesses are closing. These things are very difficult to tackle but there are solutions. … To be ideological on one side or the other is not the best way to solve problems.”

It should be noted that Tinklenberg took such an above-the-fray approach, too, for the first several months of his campaign. It wasn’t until he started making the point that Bachmann is out of the mainstream, a non-player in Congress, that he made his big jump in the polls.

And he’s picking up where he left off.

“She has persisted in her behavior,” said Tinklenberg of some of Bachmann’s comments. “This could be fun. She shows a total detachment from reality. It must be liberating to live in a world where you can totally make stuff up.”

Health care expertise her issue
Reed believes her main strength in any race will be her understanding of health care issues, an understanding from serving as both a physician for 20 years and as a health-care administrator.

“I went to the websites of the House and the Senate,” Reed said. “There are only about two dozen senators and representatives that have medical backgrounds.”

The health care industry, she said, is “a huge drag on the economy.” Reforms must be made, she said, but her thoughts are not a simplistic up or down on a national health care system.

Bachmann has shown she’s a master of sound-bite solutions to complex problems.   

It is interesting to note — as The Minnesota Independent did in a short article Tuesday — that Bachmann once came to Reed’s rescue. That’s when she was a member of the board of regents. In 2003, there was a movement by some legislators from her district to replace Reed on the board. Bachmann, a state senator at the time, and others came to her rescue.

“It would be a shame to lose Dr. Reed’s talents and tenacity on the board,” Bachmann was quoted as saying in the St. Paul Pioneer Press at the time.

“I am grateful for her support in 2003,” said Reed of Bachmann.
That two moderates already are in the race likely means that others, from farther left on the DFL political spectrum, also will see opportunity in the 6th. The line will get longer. And the IPs have not yet made it clear whether they’ll endorse one of their own this time, or again focus their efforts behind a moderate DFLer.

Bachmann’s thoughts?

“She’s focused on things like cap and trade and all of the spending that’s going on here, not who our opponent’s going to be,” said Marston.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 05/07/2009 - 10:55 am.

    Dr. Reed is a very talented individual and will be a strong candidate. If Tinklenberg does run, he will have to put together a much more effective campaign and fundraising effort early if he is to compete. Tinkleberg’s transportation background was a major advantage and would have been very useful now in the House of Representatives with the stimulus dollars. By the time 2010 rolls around, health care and public health (H1N1 is only a precursor) will be the major topics. These play to Dr. Reed’s strengths.

    It is fortunate that the Democratic party will have two individuals to chose from. Both would bring expertise and a reflective and thoughtful approach to an office that badly needs a change.

  2. Submitted by William Wallace on 05/07/2009 - 11:30 am.

    LOL, minnpost is left of the strib.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/07/2009 - 11:45 am.

    By 2010, Obama, Pelosi and Reid will have tripled the national debt; they’re half way there already. Pity the candidate that steps up to the stump to advocate digging us in even deeper with socialized medicine.

    E-Tink has had his shot; the voters of the 6th have thoroughly weighed and measured him, and found him wanting. Repackaging an old, busted song and dance act will get him nowhere.

    Throw in the fact that the overwhelming majority of support any Democrat candidate will receive will be coming from places like California, New York and Florida from people whose “values” and agendas are anathema to folks in the common sense Midwest, and we have the recipe for another comfortable Bachmann victory.

  4. Submitted by Brian Hanf on 05/07/2009 - 01:22 pm.

    Doug – you say “Challenge 1: Bachmann nearly lost an election she had in the bag by doing that “Hardball” interview. ”

    I don’t understand in 2006, when she won office for the first time she got 151,248 votes and 2008 she got 187,817 votes in 2008. Looks like she picked up support, not the other way around. The percent was lower but she was never ever going to lose that seate in 2008.

    The fact the Tinklenberg’s percent was only 1% higher than Patty’s 2006 number should be enough to prove that. Had she really ‘lost’ votes, it would be Tinklenberg in congress now.

    I don’t think you will see Rep Bachmann get less than 46% – I also think that any DFL candidate would be stupid to run when a third party candidate could beat her. Let the DFL take a break and let Mrs Reed take out Rep Backmann via the IP ballot line.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/07/2009 - 04:49 pm.

    If Dr. Reed thinks single-payer is too “simplistic” to be a real solution, she is mistaken. The Massachusetts plan, very like the Daschle/Obama plan except that it does not include a public plan as an option, has failed to achieve either universality OR cost reduction. It runs hundreds of millions of dollars per year over budget, while those who used to qualify for free care now must pay co-pays and deductibles. It is an excruciatingly complex system designed to preserve for the for-profit insurance industry the control of our health care.

    Only a national health plan like HR-676, called Medicare for All by many, or S-703, a plan that would let each state develop its own system, will achieve both cost reduction and 100 percent coverage. The word is not “simplistic.” It is “simple,” as in Keep It Simple and Reach the Goals: everybody in nobody out, and $400 billion saved per year.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/07/2009 - 04:53 pm.

    Brian, your strategy would make sense if the IP wasn’t already widely known as “DFL lite”.

    Mrs. Reed’s reluctance to state her positions on “hot button” issues such as homosexual rights and abortion are going to be read as “love ’em” by the voters…and probably very correctly so.

    The 6th is a very conservative district; perhaps the most conservative in the state. They are simply not going to elect a liberal by any other name.

  7. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 05/07/2009 - 11:41 pm.

    I don’t live in the 6th, and so I don’t fully understand her popularity in the district. I was amazed at how handily she won after her pounding by national and local media and politicos after the Hardball interview.

    Given the history, I presume that she will be hard to beat in 2010.

  8. Submitted by Roy Everson on 05/08/2009 - 07:17 am.

    It’s too bad a candidate endorsed by 2 parties can’t run in both parties’ primaries. Last year an IP spoiler took votes away from El that might have better reflected Bachmann’s minority status within the district had they gone to El.

  9. Submitted by Aubrey Immelman on 05/08/2009 - 08:09 am.

    As Doug Grow notes in his report, a major challenge for Democrats is that “Bachmann never has lost the devotion of her base, the social conservatives from fundamentalist churches.”

    My rationale for challenging Bachmann in the Republican primary last year was to probe the numerical strength of that constituency — true believers willing to turn out at the polls to protect Bachmann from a challenge by a non-base Republican.

    The answer: fewer than 20,000.

    Phase Two of the campaign to defeat Bachmann flows logically from that determination: mobilize 20,000 voters from across the political spectrum, including ordinary, moderate, non-base, rank-and-file Republicans, to prevent Bachmann from getting out of the gate on Sept. 14, 2010 to defend her seat in the November election.

    Once Bachmann makes it through the September primary to the general election ballot, she’ll draw support from a much broader constituency: the Republican and Republican-leaning majority that simply won’t vote for a Democrat.

    As Thomas Swift notes in comment #6, “The 6th is a very conservative district; perhaps the most conservative in the state. They are simply not going to elect a liberal by any other name.”

    If Bachmann makes it through the gate on Sept. 14, 2010, her constituency jumps tenfold from fewer than 20,000 hardcore primary supporters to nearly 200,000 in much softer support, which nonetheless has proven an insurmountable obstacle for Democrats, which make up less than 40% of the Sixth District constituency.

    I say again: If Bachmann advances beyond the Sept. 14, 2010 Republican primary, she is virtually assured of being returned to Congress for two more years in the November 2010 general election.

    MinnPost quotes Maureen Reed as saying, “I want to concentrate on the things that matter most to people day in and day out … the economy, health care, jobs.”

    When no less a person than the broadly respected and nearly universally recognized Patty Wetterling campaigned on exactly those Democratic issues against a non-incumbent Bachmann in 2006, it garnered her 42% of the vote.

    For those who want to see Bachmann gone from the political landscape, it’s important to recognize that the issues championed by Democratic candidates will not receive a rational hearing in the 6th District as long as the debate is framed by Bachmann and her fundamentalist base.

    As long as Bachmann is the incumbent Republican candidate, 6th District politics will be framed by identity politics and social conservatism.

    To use a medical metaphor (a nod to Dr. Reed), Bachmann must be surgically removed by invasive, radical intervention before we can even begin to consider the treatment regimen implicit in the policy options proposed by Democratic candidates.

    As long as Bachmann is on the Republican ticket, the political fortunes of the 6th District will be governed by human irrationality, not the give-and-take of reasoned political discourse.

    As reported in the St. Cloud Times on May 7, 2009, “Aubrey Immelman … who challenged Bachmann in the Republican primary and later as a write-in candidate … said [Bachmann] is vulnerable but not to a Democrat. ‘I think Rep. Bachmann can be defeated,’ Immelman said, ‘but only in a Republican primary.'”

    We can sit down and have a rational discussion about what’s best for the 6th District, but only once Bachmann’s seat at the table is empty.

  10. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/08/2009 - 10:20 am.

    I heard Reed interviewed on KSTP AM 1500 yesterday morning. I am not impressed. Her “right down the middle” approach on social issues will not satisfy or energize the left. See will need an energized left to win.

  11. Submitted by Janet Robert on 05/08/2009 - 04:35 pm.

    The left is already energized to defeat Bachmann, so we don’t need to work on mobilizing them. We need to work on mobilizing Anoka County voters. St. Cloud voted for Tinklenberg and so did Washington County. He lost Anoka and Wright County, and to win those or close the gap may depend on labor and law enforcement to mobilize more of their people. We need to focus on what are their concerns, and they aren’t liberal. Unfortunately in every Democratic attempt to win the district including my run in 2002, the campaigns have been badly run by people who don’t understand the district and advise candidates to act like they are running in Minneapolis. Tinklenberg could win if he raises money early, focuses on the key issues and hires a talented Campaign Manager with a record of winning red to blue districts. However, if the Republicans put up their phony Independence Party candidate again, Bob Anderson, then it won’t be easy.

  12. Submitted by Aubrey Immelman on 05/08/2009 - 08:41 pm.

    Janet: That’s interesting. When you say, “if the Republicans put up their phony Independence Party candidate again, Bob Anderson,” do you mean he was a Bachmann mole, or are you simply saying Bob Anderson is a Republican who chose to run under the IP banner?

    I ask, because when I first filed to challenge Bachmann on the Republican ticket last July, at least one blogger suggested I was a Tinklenberg “plant” (because I had been a major contributor to Patty Wetterling in her race against Bachmann).

    I doubt Anderson was put up to run by the GOP or by the Bachmann campaign. If he was, he would have been better funded — he claims to have spent just $800 on his race.

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/10/2009 - 10:14 am.

    Re: Aubrey Immelman #9

    Your observations both politically and demographically about the 6th are accurate.

    It will be a tough row to hoe for most Democratic candidates with less than conservative positions.

    One only needs to drive the 35W corridor north from the cities and through the 6th. The billboards say it all. The right to life movement has deep pockets and as you point out, a strong base consisting of social conservatives from fundamentalist churches. As such, these numbers have a multiplier effect once you get past the primaries as you have stated.

    This election that will draw intense outside interest and money from both sides. It will be fun to watch. If I had to bet I would put my wager on Ms. Bachmann.

    As Mr Immelman points out, the congresswoman has some core supporters that may or may not reflect the entire 6th. But nevertheless they will be her momentum towards a victory.

  14. Submitted by Darryl Carter on 05/10/2009 - 10:53 pm.

    2010 in the Sixth will surely be interesting. However, of more interest to me is the prospect of redistricting, effective for the 2012 race. Will that still involve 8 Congressional Districts, or will it be 7? In either case, demography will change the map again, perhaps most dramatically affecting the 6th.

    And, when is Amy up for re-election? Would an incumbent Bachmann give up a House seat, to run for the Senate?

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