There are few Houses races in the 2012 cycle with more uncertainty than Minnesota's 6th district. The Republican presidential primary and a redistricting stalemate have kept that campaign in second gear.
Rep. Michele Bachmann created a stir last summer when she suspended her Congressional re-election campaign while running for president.
There was a legal logic behind the Republican's decision — Minnesota law forbids a candidate from running for two different federal office nominations within the same major party. But as the tea party darling has slid in the presidential polls and the Congressional races are ramping up, there is "a lot of chatter" in the 6th about Bachmann's future, as one Minnesota Republican put it.
Redistricting "gives her more time" to consider re-election, should Bachmann not be her party's presidential nominee, a state Republican operative said. The political class back home will be "patient," he said.
"I don't think voters are bothered by her presidential campaign," the operative said. "There might be some consequences, but most people understand that it brings more good than bad to the district."
The big date on the electoral calendar is the 6th district convention on April 14. Candidates attend district conventions before the official primary and lobby for their local party's endorsement. The winner of the endorsement usually becomes the nominee.
It is theoretically feasible for a candidate to not participate in (or even lose) the convention and go on to win the primary.
But even then, the party is willing to accommodate Bachmann if she were to be involved in a protracted presidential primary. A candidate need not formally file ahead of the convention.
"There is a possibility of ... rescheduling the convention if there are extenuating circumstances," such as the incumbent running for president, 6th district Republican Party Chairman David FitzSimmons said.
While Minnesota Republicans echo that Bachmann has their full support should she run for re-election, contingency plans are being hatched. Both local and national GOP officials insist a strong bench is ready to go in the event Bachmann doesn't run, and they say some "are getting prepared" to jump into the race. But even as the preparations are being made, the tone is deferential. Last summer, when Bachmann suspended her Congressional campaign, several potential Republican candidates expressed initial interest in running. Former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer said in June he would be "open" to considering a run if Bachmann bowed out.
Other Republicans in the wings are state House Majority Leader Matt Dean, state Rep. Chris DeLaForest and former state Rep. Phil Krinkie.
Six months later, Emmer told Roll Call that talking about his interest would be "disrespectful" and would not be "appropriate."
Democratic contenders are equally hesitant. A Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party source told Roll Call that Democrats are holding off on announcing their candidacies until the district lines become clearer.
Bachmann's spokeswoman declined to comment on any sort of outlook beyond the presidential campaign.
Adding to the lack of movement in the race is uncertainty over redistricting. The 6th touches seven of the eight Minnesota districts and will lose population when the lines are redrawn. The Republican Legislature passed a map that sought to maintain the current House delegation makeup of four Democrats and four Republicans, but Gov. Mark Dayton (D) vetoed it. The two branches have until Feb. 21 to come to an agreement, but if they fail, a five-judge panel will draw the lines.
Republicans and Democrats declined to prognosticate on how the new map might turn out. There are even scenarios under discussion that would see Bachmann seeking re-election in a Member-vs.-Member primary against Reps. Chip Cravaack or John Kline, or in a general election against Rep. Betty McCollum (D).
After the presidential race shakes out, another possibility for Bachmann is a Senate bid.
Last December, women's issues strategist Rebecca Sive wrote in the Huffington Post that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was concerned Bachmann would run against her. In May, Bachmann told Hotline on Call she wasn't interested in running for Senate. Polls taken earlier this year show Bachmann would be a favorite for the GOP nomination, but Klobuchar seems safe for re-election. Roll Call rates the Senate race as Safe Democratic.
The Klobuchar campaign declined to comment.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) told reporters recently at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that he did not think Bachmann was using her presidential campaign to position herself for another office.
"She's not somebody who's saying, 'I'm doing this because I ultimately want to run for governor or Senate,'" he said. "I don't know what she wants to do."