Bachmann brings Minnesota political tradition to Iowa

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has spent months in Iowa pointing to her ties to the Hawkeye State.

And though the presidential candidate was born in Iowa, some view Bachmann the politician as originating elsewhere.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann addresses gathered conservatives at the Iowa Straw Poll last summer in Ames. Although Bachmann heralds her Iowa roots, some view the presidential hopeful as politically molded in Minnesota. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“I think she’s a Minnesota product,” said Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier.

Bachmann fits the mold of other flamboyant Minnesota politicians such as Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura, Rudy Perpich, and others, Schier explained.

“There’s not a short list,” he said of colorful Minnesota political personalities.

Pat Anderson, former Republican state auditor and Minnesota Republican Party national committeewoman, also views Bachmann fitting a familiar state political mold — the outspoken politician, principled within their framework of principles.

“She’s (Bachmann) a polarizing figure,” said Anderson.

She’s polarizing even within the Republican Party, she noted.

Bachmann in her book, “Core of Conviction,” indicated she has not always found favor with all Republicans.

Her assessment of the Senate Republican caucus, which she joined in 2001 as a new state senator, is less than flattering.

She depicts Senate Republicans of a decade ago as meek and submissive, ground down by decades of Senate Democratic control.

“In return for such docile behavior, the liberal leadership would usually drop some little morsel onto the floor so that hungry Republicans could scamper after it,” Bachmann wrote.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, a former Senate colleague and kindred spirit, views Bachmann’s depiction of the Republican caucus as accurate.

Bachmann represented “a new generation of Republicans,” said Limmer.

Indeed, the conservative assertiveness Bachmann brought to the Senate prompted “soul searching” among caucus members, Limmer explained.

From the start Bachmann was a political lightening rod.

And when opponents to then-proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage came to rally at the State Capitol, Bachmann was one of the lawmakers pictured on the front of their t-shirts.

Karen Morehead, a member of the Forest Lake School Board and long-time Bachmann supporter, is troubled by the intensity of the scorn some have heaped on Bachmann over the years.

“She’s about the best friend anyone can have,” said Morehead, also expressing fondness for the congresswoman’s husband, Marcus Bachmann.

“I don’t see what joy people get out of it,” she said of personal attacks on Bachmann.

Criticizing candidates’ positions is perfectly valid, Morehead explained.

But she views the use of unflattering photos or the focus on misstatements or gaffs as unfair.

“It shows we’re human,” she Moorhead she said of slip ups.

Schier views Bachmann’s flamboyance stoking the intensity of reaction to her.

“It’s personal,” he said of the reaction some people feel.

And it can be “vicious,” he noted.

The same kind over-the-top reactions have been felt by Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, Schier and others note.

The intensity of public reaction to politicians such as Bachmann and Pelosi can come in response to their political certitude, said Anderson.

“It’s all very black and white for them,” said Anderson, saying the certitude reflects a confidence in beliefs.

“They’re not nuanced,” Anderson said.

Other factors may be at work, suggests Professor Heather LaMarre, of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota.

For one thing, some of Bachmann’s statements have ran afoul of fact-checkers, LaMarre explained.

And there’s gender, she noted.

In general, women candidates tend to be treated differently by the media than male candidates, she said.

“It’s not that they get picked on more, they get picked on differently,” she said.

While the attention on male candidates tends to focus on policies, with women it’s often on perceived foibles such as physical appearance, wardrobe, other personal matters.

LaMarre cites a 2009 issue of “Newsweek” magazine which featured on a photo of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin in running shorts on its cover as an example gender-driven coverage.

The magazine’s “Queen of Rage” cover photo of a wide-eyed Bachmann this year also drew criticism.

Beyond this, the simple fact is many Americans are more interested in other things than presidential politics, LaMarre explained.

Because of this, characterizations of candidates by late night television talk show comedians or cable comedy shows tend to stick, she explained.

Recent polling has generally shown Bachmann in the single digits in Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus on Jan. 3.

A poll released Tuesday (Dec. 13) by Public Policy Polling had the congresswoman at 11 percent, with Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich at 16 percent, 21 percent, and 22 percent, respectively.

Schier questions whether Bachmann will finish among the top three candidates in Iowa.

Anderson sees Bachmann facing a “steep climb.”

Around the time of the South Carolina presidential primary, which is Jan. 21, Bachmann will need to decide whether or not to run for Congress again, said Anderson.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who served in the Senate with Bachmann, said Bachmann may fit the mold of colorful Minnesota political personalities, but that these personalities were all different.

Wellstone was passionate, but also careful with his facts, said Marty.

“I would say she hasn’t shown that constraint,” said Marty.

Marty recalls Bachmann’s arrival in the Minnesota Senate as low key.

No one, including journalists, were saying “Wow” back then, he said.

Bachmann learned what other politicians have learned, Marty believes.

That is, the more outrageous the things you say, the greater attention you get.