August is often thought of as the dog days of summer. For Congress and Washington, it’s a “break,” but not so this year with summer’s heated health-care town hall gatherings. Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District is a national case of what is at stake for Republicans during this debate, and this has caused that district’s usually cavalier politician to focus on 2010 and her most critical county, rather than national sound bites.
While Democrats bore the brunt of the emotional outbursts early on in health-care town halls, the congresswoman Democrats love to loathe got more than an earful in what is supposed to be a fairly safe GOP district.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann’s town hall meeting in Lake Elmo yesterday signals that she may be more concerned about Washington County than Washington, D.C. The choice of location for the town hall should tell us that Bachmann knows that she has to engage potential voters, not just her fans at Fox.
Lake Elmo is in Washington County, where her next election may be won or lost.
In 2008, Barack Obama, Norm Coleman and her opponent, El Tinklenberg, won in Washington County. Obama by 6,000, Coleman by 13,000 and Tinklenberg by 3,000. It should also be noted that IP candidate Bob Anderson received 7,500 votes in that county. What was Bachmann’s district-wide margin of victory in 2008? 12,000 votes.
And while turnout for the town hall meeting was impressive, the question to ask in previewing next year’s election is: “Where were the normal people?” This is important because the sense is that health care has become so polarized that few people who are not ultra-partisan are likely to show up at a town hall meeting.
No damaging statements
It’s telling that Bachmann, the ever shrewd and calculating politico, actually engaged her constituents at the town hall session rather than trying to play to national conservatives. And she avoided overly damaging statements.
Earlier this week, she made only a brief appearance at a forum in St. Cloud on Social Security. Thursday’s gathering was unusual because she gave so much of her time to a public forum in her district, talking with the overflow crowd before flying off to Colorado to play the role of conservative fundraising magnate.
So could it be that Bachmann is finally recognizing that constituents are tiring of her national profile (and rightful comparisons to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin) and is worried about reelection? Yes. And that she realizes her political future faces not just a tough match in 2010, but the potential for an intra-party battle in 2012, when she could be redistricted with GOP Rep. John Kline? Yes.
Privately, many Republican leaders concede they are concerned that she and her supporters are a liability to the GOP rebuilding efforts in Minnesota. Evidence locally and nationally can be seen in the explicit language that former GOP Sen. Dave Durenberger used when he broke news that former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman was going to lead a new group of GOP thinkers who are going to focus less on the social issues Bachmann and her political brood obsess over.
And Kline’s ascension to ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee gives a clear signal from the House GOP leadership on who they trust more to carry their message. Kline.
Now look ahead to 2012, when redistricting kicks in. The possibility of Minnesota losing a Congressional seat is real, but more concerning for the GOP is the possibility that Kline and Bachmann end up drawn into the same district.
The two DFLers vying to challenge her next year will gain national attention and support. One of them, Dr. Maureen Reed, would likely debate circles around Bachmann on health care. The other DFL challenger, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, is as politically savvy as Bachmann. Clark has early momentum in endorsements, but Reed has impressive fundraising totals.
So as the nights get cooler and 2010 gets closer, keep an eye on other changes in behavior from Bachmann. After all, it’s August in Minnesota. Like the weather, anything is possible in politics.