For Dems, a New Public Enemy No. 1

Like Palin, Rep. Bachmann is a conservative lightening rod

By Alex Isenstadt
|  Sunday, Aug 9, 2009  |  Updated 12:15 AM CDT
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Ask Democratic officials in the state about Rep. Bachmann, and they can barely contain their anger.

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Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is outspoken, conservative, media-friendly — and for many in the Democratic Party, a new public enemy No. 1.

Now that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is out of office, there are few Republican officials in the country Democrats would rather unseat in 2010 than Bachmann, a two-term congresswoman with a habit of pushing the buttons of liberals on everything from ACORN to global warming to even whether President Barack Obama is, as she once asked, "anti-American."

"She's definitely somewhere up there," Bachmann chief of staff Michelle Martson said of where the Minnesota congresswoman sits on the Democratic campaign hit-list.

Bachmann has long been on the receiving end of pointed jabs on liberal blogs like Daily Kos, where one commenter wrote a few weeks back, "After having just returned from a trip to Minnesota, I shake my head that such a beautiful place would be represented by such an ugly individual as Bachmann."

Ask Democratic officials in the state about Bachmann, and they can barely contain their anger.

"She is a bizarre news story of the month every month," said Brian Melendez, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

"Michele Bachmann is just nuts," said Jeremy Powers, a local DFL chair in Bachmann's district. "She is just an utter embarrassment."

And some Democrats — Powers included — don't hesitate to compare Bachmann with the aforementioned Palin, another conservative lightning rod in her mid-40s who speaks with an upper-Midwestern accent, is the mother of a large family and touts a stridently socially conservative agenda that Democrats regard as outright right wing.

"She is so principally and diametrically opposed to the core principles that we have," Donald McFarland, a Minnesota-based Democratic strategist, said of Bachmann. "She is further to the right than Attila
the Hun."

"She's the poster girl for the radical fringe element," added Brian Smoot, who served as political director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last campaign cycle.

“I think they’re passionate about trying to beat Michele Bachmann,” said Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party of Democratic efforts. “I think she probably frustrates them because she’s able to win every time.”

Democrats almost took out Bachmann in 2008, when national Democrats spent nearly $1.1 million blasting her in ads after she appeared to suggest in an October interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews that the media should investigate then-Sen. Obama and other Democrats in Congress for anti-American activities.

But as they prepare for the 2010 cycle, they are doubling down on their efforts to unseat the 43-year-old congresswoman.

Much of the Minnesota Democratic establishment has already thrown its backing to state Sen. Tarryl Clark in her bid to oust Bachmann. After announcing her candidacy last week, Clark — widely regarded as a political heavy-hitter in the state who was also touted as a potential gubernatorial candidate — immediately won the backing of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and St. Cloud College Democrats.

The backing forced former candidate El Tinklenberg, who came within 3 percent of defeating Bachmann in 2008, to drop out of the race — just one week after announcing he was running again.

The DCCC and the Minnesota DFL denied to POLITICO this week that they were working behind the scenes to clear the field for Clark, but strategists for both parties say there is little question the national Democratic Party will take an active role in the 2010 effort to oust Bachmann.

"There has been a lot of passion to defeat Michele Bachman, which will carry on from last cycle," said John Lapp, who served as executive director of the DCCC during the 2006 cycle under then-chair Rahm
Emanuel. "I think Congresswoman Bachman will continue to be a Democratic target, because she is of the extreme right wing of the party and she has an extreme agenda she spouts off cycle after cycle."

"I think that you're going to see Democrats put serious resources forward," said Matt Burns, a Minnesota-based GOP strategist.

Democrats will have plenty of ammunition in their effort to cast Bachmann as an out-of-control ideologue.

In June, during a diatribe in a House floor speech on the size of the federal government, Bachmann derided what she called Obama's "gangster government."

Also that month, Bachmann told The Washington Times that she had no intention of filling out 2010 census forms — in large part, she explained, because she was concerned about the role of the community organizing group ACORN in the data collection process.

And in March, Bachmann appeared to urge supporters to take up arms over a Democratic bill to address climate change, telling listeners of a conservative Minnesota radio program: "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back."

But Republicans say Bachmann's aggressive targeting of all things Washington only adds to her appeal.

"My sense of Michele is that she has been skewering some of the things that have been coming out of Washington, and my sense is her credibility is building up," said Scott Cottington, a St. Paul-based GOP strategist who has served as a regional field director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"Everywhere we go, she gets a strong reception," said Martson, Bachmann's chief of staff. "You get on any one of her telephone town halls, and people are really disappointed about what's going on in Washington."

And Republicans say any Democratic effort to paint Bachmann as out-of-the-mainstream won't be an effective strategy — mainly because Minnesota's 6th Congressional District is conservative-minded. John
McCain beat Barack Obama 53 percent to 45 percent in the district November 2008, and George W. Bush won the district with double-digit margins in 2000 and 2004.

"They'd like to think they can beat her," Cottington said, "but it is a center-right, blue-collar district ... I don't think they can do it."

But Democrats say Clark — who still faces a primary challenger in Maureen Reed, a physician who ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 on the Independence Party ticket — presents the party with its best shot of
taking out Bachmann since she first ran for the House in 2006, because she already has proved that she can win in a Republican-leaning St. Cloud Senate district.

"She's proven she can win in areas where Republicans are strong," said McFarland, the Minnesota-based Democratic strategist. "Tarryl Clark is the ticket."

"I've run in an area that people didn't think could be won by a Democrat," Clark told POLITICO this week.

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