Bachmann in Late Trouble

Member Puts Own Race in Play

Posted October 20, 2008 at 6:32pm

Some people call her divisive. Others call her infamous.

Just don’t call Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) anti- American.

The Congresswoman made some controversial comments on a cable talk show Friday afternoon in which she wondered whether Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), his wife and other Members of Congress were “anti-America.” Bachmann’s remarks have dramatically transformed her re-election bid, which was once considered reasonably secure, into a competitive race just two weeks before Election Day.

Former State Transportation Commissioner El Tinklenberg (D) is challenging Bachmann in the conservative district north of the Twin Cities. Tinklenberg’s campaign appeared to have trouble getting traction, especially when it came to fundraising, until recently.

But since Bachmann’s interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Tinklenberg reports that he has raised an eye-popping $810,000.

On Friday’s broadcast, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, a former top aide to the late Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), asked Bachmann whether she thought many of her colleagues in Congress might hold anti- American viewpoints.

“What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look,” Bachmann said during the interview. “I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would be — would love to see an expose like that.”

The brouhaha was further amplified by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, after taping “Meet the Press” on Sunday, pointed to Bachmann’s comments as an example of Republicans’ harsh campaign tone this election. Powell crossed party lines to endorse Obama on the Sunday talk show.

“This business of, for example, a Congressman from Minnesota who’s going around saying let’s examine all Congressmen to see who’s pro-America or not pro-America — we have got to stop this kind of nonsense, pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity,” Powell said. “And so that really was driving me.”

The consequences of Bachmann’s remarks proved nothing if not profitable for Democrats. Tinklenberg announced Monday that he had raised at least $810,000 in the three days since Bachmann went on “Hardball” — almost twice as much as his best fundraising quarter of the campaign.

Tinklenberg campaign spokesman John Wodele said that thanks to the influx of cash, the campaign has bought $260,000 in radio and television advertisements — its first TV ad buy of the cycle.

“Before Congresswoman Bachmann said Sen. Obama may have ‘anti-American’ views, two polls had the race at a statistical dead heat,” Wodele said. “However, over the weekend we narrowed the money gap, too, while voters have seen their Congresswoman’s extreme and divisive views, and we have the resources to make sure they know they have a real alternative in El Tinklenberg.”

Tinklenberg wasn’t the only Democrat who benefitted from Bachmann’s comments, which she later attempted to back away from during a local news program by saying they were misunderstood. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used footage of Bachmann’s “Hardball” appearance in a fundraising e-mail that brought in more than twice as much as last week’s regular fundraising e-mail, according to the committee.

The DCCC’s independent expenditure arm also plans to put $1 million into the race for Tinklenberg. He was only recently added to the committee’s “Red to Blue” list of promising candidates running in Republican-held districts.

In interviews after the “Hardball” appearance, Bachmann said that her comments were misunderstood and that Matthews brought the term “anti-America” into the conversation. A statement from her campaign blamed the media for “spinning” her remarks out of context.

“This has all been a political spin version of the children’s game of telephone,” read Bachmann’s official campaign statement. “The Congresswoman never called for some House Unamerican Activities Committee witch hunt — but that’s the spin that the liberal blogs are running with. She never called all liberals anti-American, but that’s what the media hype has turned it into.”

While the damage might have been done in the media and in the campaign bank accounts, it’s not clear yet how voters will respond to Bachmann’s comments. After all, this not the first time that Bachmann has put her foot in her mouth, Minnesota political commentator Barry Casselman said.

“I think that it’s sort of Michele Bachmann-esque,” Casselman said. “She’s very famous or notorious for making very partisan statements that most other politicians wouldn’t make. The question remains is [have] her supporters and constituents in the 6th district become accustomed to this and find this acceptable, or will that be going too far?”

Casselman and at least one Republican with close knowledge of the district believe this might not put Bachmann in the electoral danger zone. According to the Republican, who asked not to be named, Bachmann’s comments came too late for Tinklenberg to rebound in such a conservative district, which President Bush carried by 15 points in the 2004 White House election.

But the GOP source said Bachmann’s comments could do more to hurt her in Congress with her colleagues, provided that she is re-elected.

“Hey, when she comes knocking on the door saying ‘Will you work with me on this anti-tax bill?,’ that’s what she should be concerned about,” the Republican said. “She lost more credibility with her colleagues and other Members of the House than in the 6th district of Minnesota.”