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Michele Bachmann, Tarryl Clark both have their moments — and low points — in race’s first real debate

After months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic challenger Tarryl Clark finally met, face to face, in St. Cloud this noon.

Oh yeah, and Bob was there, too — as in Bob Anderson, the Independence Party candidate.

The tone of the debate was far more civil than the tone of the brutal ads that have been playing across the 6th District for weeks.

Sure, Bachmann and Clark disagreed on just about everything. (Anderson, it should be noted, lines up closely with Bachmann on most issues.)

Still, a funny thing happens when pols meet in person, rather than clash with ads. They may not like each other. They may not embrace. But they do try to maintain a level of respect and respectability.

Third-party candidate raps attack ads, draws applause 
When the subject of the ads was brought up at the conclusion of the debate, Anderson got his one applause of the day.

“I think you should both be ashamed,” Anderson said.

Chamber members — the St. Cloud chamber was the main sponsor of the debate — Clark and Bachmann supporters all seemed to agree with Anderson on this point.

Meantime, both candidates tried to laugh off the tone of the ads, which have ranged from dumb to obnoxious.

Clark said she didn’t know she was such a political force until Bachmann unleashed her ads. Bachmann, she said, has just released her 10th negative ad.

Tarryl Clark
Tarryl Clark

“I hope she noticed I don’t have horns on the side of my head — my head is not on Mount Rushmore [along with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and President Obama],” Clark said.

Bachmann told the audience of more than 500 that she agrees that the ads have gone too far.

“I know it’s difficult to watch them,” she said. “I don’t like to watch them either.”

This was the low point in the debate for Bachmann. There was a groan in the room. Even her most ardent supporters understand that Bachmann might have something to do with the tone of the Bachmann ads.

But Clark had a low point, too.

Remember, this debate was sponsored by the Chamber. Many of the questions weren’t exactly the sort most Democrats would consider friendly.

When Clark was asked if she would vote to support the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act (the bill that would make it easier for labor to organize non-union shops), Clark danced all over the place.

“I’ve always had a relationship with big labor and big business,” she said. She went on to say she’s also had relationships with “metro and rural” and “environmentalists and business.”

But she didn’t answer the question.

“I think you just heard a politician tell you she will be voting [yes] on the card check,” Bachmann said. “I’ll clearly tell you I’ll oppose it.”

Chances to ‘dance’
The question again was brought up.

Again Clark danced.

And again Bachmann was able to get off a clean, fair shot.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

“She’s had two chances to answer the question,” Bachmann said. “She still hasn’t.”

This whole event started off on a high for Clark. Her supporters — including Bowser, who once was the main man in the oldies rock group Sha Na Na — far outnumbered Bachmann supporters at the entry way to the civic center.

(A Bowser moment: He lives in Los Angeles and was first drawn into this race because of his dislike for Bachmann. Now, he adores Clark and has virtually moved to St. Cloud for the campaign. While reporters awaited Clark’s arrival, Bowser entertained with a little doo-wop. “Bah, bah, bah, bah, vote for Tar-ryl.”)

Clark was greeted by her followers like a heavyweight headed to into the ring for a title bout.

“I say Tarryl, you say Congress!” shouted a cheerleader.

“Tarryl!” he yelled.

“Congress!” her fans yelled.

Bachmann followers — older, quieter and clearly outnumbered — sort of scrunched in a corner while this was going on.

Clark swept into the Civic Center on a wave of positive vibes.

Bachmann rushed into the building, about five minutes late. Her late arrival forced her to virtually brush off the few who had come to cheer her.

Mellow Bachmann stays low-key
But once on the podium, Bachmann was in her element.

Even those who don’t agree with her political points of view would acknowledge that she comes across far different in this sort of format than when she does right-wing talk radio or TV. Today, she was clearly under control, well-spoken and prepared.

Her staff had placed charts of the bureaucracy that she says is being created by “Obama-care” on each chair in the Civic Center before the debate. The chain of command lines on the chart go in all directions.

“If you thought you had bureaucracy before [in health care], you haven’t seen anything yet,” Bachmann said, making a reference to the chart.

Bachmann, though, also is completely capable of being disingenuous.

She nailed Clark on not being specific on the free choice act but was not at all specific about her statements that entitlements such as Social Security “need reform.”

Of course, she repeatedly railed against the growing national debt and didn’t answer when Clark said, “So why did you vote against pay-as-you-go — that’s a strange position for a conservative.”

Bachmann repeatedly made negative references to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bob Anderson
Bob Anderson

At one point, the exasperated Clark said, “You’re not running against Nancy Pelosi. You’re running against Tarryl Clark and Bob Anderson.”

This did not stop Bachmann from continuing to attack Pelosi. Cap-and-trade, health care reform and the stimulus programs all drew her scorn.

Bachmann did get herself in a little trouble when she tried to use the anecdotal technique so popular among pols.

Bachmann spoke of a 2007 visit to “a window manufacturer in Stillwater” where she was told that the biggest concern of employers was “uncertainty.” She clearly was referring to Andersen Windows, and Clark was able to point out that because of stimulus money, Andersen is enjoying huge business.

Bachmann did not respond.

Near the end of the debate, Bachmann seemed to try to calm those who might be weary of her lightning-rod status.

“I’m just trying to shake things up,” she said.

But clearly, she was trying to calm things down with her performance in this debate.

“My mother thought I did well,” she said, after the debate.

But Clark, too, said she was pleased and vowed that her supporters are ready to rumble in these last eight days.

The two candidates have two debates remaining later this week.

Oh, and Bob will be there, too.

And Bob Anderson could end up being the deciding factor. Two years ago, he picked up 10 percent of the vote. Bachmann ended up winning by 3 points.

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

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/26/2010 - 04:21 pm.

    Bachmann will be re-elected and it will be because of Bob Anderson. It’s that simple.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Steele on 10/26/2010 - 05:43 pm.

    Bachmann will probably be re-elected and it will be because of the 6th District voters.

  3. Submitted by Bernie Hesse on 10/26/2010 - 06:50 pm.

    I’m disappointed if Tarryl didn’t respond in the affirmative to supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (it should be called restore the middle class act through getting a voice at work)and would hope that all workers (union and non-union) realize that Rep. Bachmann doesn’t share their values.

  4. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/26/2010 - 08:04 pm.

    Bachmann wasn’t brushing off supporters because she was late. She was brushing them off because, to her, they are the little people. The Tea Queen doesn’t have time for the little people.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/26/2010 - 10:05 pm.

    With all the union thugs in the audience, I’m surprised Clark couldn’t give a straight answer to the “card check” question. That should have been a free applause line for all the government “workers.”

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/26/2010 - 10:55 pm.

    So much ignorance of the Sixth District reflected here. The Sixth was gerrymandered to provide a safe district for a conservative member of the house. There is NO district in Minnesota in which such a sizable population of the district holds views akin to the tea party folks. There’s a reason why Mickey Bachmann has been elected here.

    One of the marks of the conservatives in this district is a decidedly anti-union bent, despite how much their middle and lower economic class status means they have suffered under the policies of the Bush Administration that Mickey SO loved.

    With that in mind, of course Tarryl Clarke dancing around the “employee free choice act” issue. If I were her, I wouldn’t have answered that question, either. Anyone who pays attention already knows her answer to that question, but if she had answered it straightforwardly, the conservative press (and Mickey’s ad people) would have trumpeted it to the moon. It’s much harder to trumpet the way she didn’t rally answer the question than the clear answer some of us would have liked her to give.

    It’s called politics, folks, and at times, avoiding IMpolitic remarks is the hallmark of an intelligent candidate.

    Of course Mickey’s claim that she’s running ads she, herself, can’t bear to watch, smells strongly of the dysfunctional “win at any costs” scorched earth approach to politics that doesn’t just dance around issues, but flat out lies about them, both regarding who you are, what you really support, and what you’ll actually do if elected and, of course promulgating falsehood-laced propaganda against your opponent, no matter how dishonest it might be. Winning is the ONLY thing that counts, because it makes you a WINNER, no matter how much destruction you cause in the lives of those who elected you.

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/27/2010 - 06:55 am.

    In this story, Bachmann’s low point is saying that she does not like watching negative ads. I can believe that; I don’t like them either. The problem with negative ads is that they work. If both candidates could find a way to take them out of the toolbox, I think everyone including the candidates would be pleased.

    Clark’s low point is a policy issue, card-check. Card check violates an individuals right to privacy via a public ballot. That is not how we vote in America. Clearly, Clark wants to defend it, as other Dems attempt to do, but it is indefensible.

  8. Submitted by Lora Jones on 10/27/2010 - 10:26 am.

    #7. You’re showing your ignorance. Card check does not mandate a “public” vote. That’s just more of the right’s demagoguery

  9. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/27/2010 - 10:29 am.

    Card check does not violate the secret ballot. That is right wing myth. What card check does do, is protect workers from intimidation and abuse during the union election process. If you are so concerned with a fair vote, and the American way, and democracy, then you would be against employer intimidation during the elections. If there were no employer intimidation, there would be no need for card check. Don’t try to pretend you care about fair elections Steve.

  10. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/27/2010 - 12:41 pm.


    Yea, I’ve heard that a few times on MinnPost. If you disagree with me it is due to my ignorance.


    As a former AFL-CIO member, I am quite familiar with the union world, no need for me to pretend.

    Dis-spell the myth from the right. Provide a reference to the document that guarantees a secret ballot for card check.

    If card check is so wonderful, why the Tarryl Clarke dance around the question twice, never providing an answer. That one issue filled her dance card.

  11. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/27/2010 - 03:23 pm.

    No response? No surprise. I hope you didn’t spend too much time looking for something nonexistent. Demagoguery from the left?

    Here is a link to the bill (H.R. 1409) at the Library of Congress, March 10, 2009:

    Alec, don’t pretend that you are concerned with employers coercing workers, when you are actually wanting to give unions greater power to coerce workers.

  12. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/28/2010 - 12:05 am.

    I was disappointed to read Clark’s answer on the Employee Free Choice Act” too. I can only surmise that she didn’t want to give the anti-union right wing unneeded propaganda.

    But here’s one good reason why such a bill is necessary (from a Wikipedia reference):

    “To find out how effective the current NLRB system actually is — in other words, how well it reflects workers’ wishes to organize into unions and bargain contracts with management — MIT Sloan School of Management professor Thomas A. Kochan and MIT Ph.D. student John Paul Ferguson used federal data to track the progress of more than 22,000 union organizing drives between 1999 and 2005. They found that “only one in five cases that filed an [NLRB] election petition ultimately reached a first contract [between workers and management],” which they reported in a Boston Globe article.[35] “This is despite all the cases already having shown substantial and likely majority support for representation.” ”

  13. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/28/2010 - 08:45 am.


    The data from you wikipedia source sounds a little soft, as it uses the phrase, “substantial and likely majority support”. I’d like to see the data that supports that statement.

    How would card check improve union organizing success rate? You didn’t make a case for that. Would it be by giving the unions power to coerce the workers?

    This all sounds like a strategy to off-shore more jobs, at a time when we just spent a trillion dollars to create jobs. Might be bad timing.

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