Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Michele Bachmann runs again: is she vulnerable this time?

This morning, Rep. Michele Bachmann announced that she will seek a fourth term in Congress. A sentiment heard among left-leaning politicos after the 2010 election was that the millions of dollars poured into the Tarryl Clark campaign were wasted on a race that wasn't winnable. Two years later, Clark is running in a different district, Bachmann's run for President has crashed and burned, and redistricting will reshape the 6th District. Is Bachmann vulnerable in her quest for reelection?

There are a number of factors that seem to say that she is:

1) Campaign debt: One of Bachmann's biggest strengths has been her ability to raise cash for her campaigns. This time campaign funds may be a weakness, not a strength. Donors who maxed out for her Presidential bid can't do it again for her House campaign, and she has millions in debt from her Presidential campaign. Of course, given the state of campaign finance law and her GOP star power, she'll be able to run a campaign, but money may not be huge advantage it was for her in 2010.
2) She's from Iowa: Bachmann's single-minded focus on the Iowa caucus caused her to play up the "native daughter from Waterloo" angle. It's hard to say how much this might affect her in this race, but she's neglected the district and the state of Minnesota for a year now, and that might hurt her.
3) Gaffes from the Presidential campaign: Take your pick, but episodes like confusing Concord, NH with the site of the battle that began the American Revolution, or claiming that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation are examples of gaffes that have tarnished the Bachmann brand.
4) Low statewide approval: According to Public Policy Polling, Bachmann is saddled with a 57% disapproval rating. Of course she isn't running statewide, but it's undeniable that she limps back into Minnesota having been bruised by the Presidential campaign.

But there are also a number of other reasons she'll be formidable:

1) Who's the opponent? Nobody has declared their candidacy against Bachmann. Her previous opponent, Clark, has declared her candidacy in CD8, and I can't imagine her being able to return. Like Amy Klobuchar, the uphill battle to unseat Bachmann has made recruiting a candidate difficult. Every other Republican incumbent has attracted challengers.
2) Star power: As a House candidate, Bachmann's fundraising prowess was unmatched. Even with her campaign debt, she'll be able to parlay media attention into campaign cash.
3) A loyal base: No matter her gaffes, Bachmann's true believers in her base haven't abandoned her. She'll be able to count on them again.

Obviously, redistricting is the wildcard in this equation. The Martin map submitted to the Special Redistricting Panel would place Bachmann into a blue CD4 along with DFL Rep. Betty McCollum. Of course, Bachmann could run in CD6 anyway and she wouldn't even have to move. And there will be a red-leaning CD6 regardless of which map the panel draws in which Bachmann can run as an incumbent.

Unless a powerful candidate enters the race again Bachmann soon or she ends up running against McCollum, she appears set to earn re-election.

I hope I'm wrong, and I could be if her image is more tarnished from the Presidential campaign than I think it is. But I won't jump on the bandwagon until I see who's driving it.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

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