by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann had a wonderful day.
Bachmann was crossing the district Sept. 27 making stops at American Legion Post 225 and Keys Cafe and Bakery in Forest Lake.
Although in a competitive race against Democrat and hotel magnate Jim Graves, Bachmann was smiling and laughing.
“Actually, this is darling,” she said of a keepsake she purchased at the Legion garage sale along with a bowl for Boomer, the family’s beagle whose weight issues the 6th District Republican links to her husband’s liberal dispensing of dog food.
Finding that the keepsake bore the inscription, “Love, Ron,” brought more laughter from Bachmann, who showed the trinket to Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, friend and supporter.
“She’s going to speak for a lot of us on issues important to us as a nation. She’s a fighter,” said Dettmer, who believes Bachmann is heading for re-election and a fourth term in the House.
Before leaving for Keys, where a friendly crowd awaited, Bachmann stopped at a vegetable stand beneath a shade tree outside the Legion.
“I better figure out supper right now,” she said, picking over the colorful autumn selection.
But Bachmann, 56, the politician, was at work, promising her office would make phone calls on behalf of one vendor frustrated with officials at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
She’d have her office call Arlington National Cemetery if necessary for answers — a former Minnesota official is in charge out there, Bachmann said.
At Keys, Bachmann worked the tables, patting backs, expressing gratitude, making introductions.
“Hello, I’m Michele,” she said.
“Oh my goodness, these are beautiful children!” Bachmann exclaimed to a smiling mother, later kneeling down to sop water off the floor when one of the youngsters overturned a glass.
Some of the people gathered at Keys have known Bachmann for years.
Karen Morehead, a member of the Forest Lake School Board, said the former presidential candidate is the same person she knew years ago.
“She hasn’t changed one bit,” Morehead said.
Morehead recalled how Bachmann, a friend but not necessarily a best friend, in the midst of her presidential campaign took time to call her and leave a comforting message after hearing her husband had suffered a stroke.
“It was such a beautiful message,” Morehead said.
She replayed it for an acquaintance skeptical of Bachmann, she explained.
“She (Bachmann) really does care,” Morehead said.
Morehead has never heard Bachmann say anything bad about her critics, she said.
“She prays for them,” Morehead said.
“People who don’t like her, they hate her,” Morehead said sadly.
Bachmann briefly spoke to the filled room, bouncing her comments off the comments of others.
Bachmann styled so-called Obamacare as “cruel” to senior citizens — critical medical decisions in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, she explained.
She depicted Democratic President Barack Obama as unwilling to abide by the law, and expressed concern the Affordable Care Act would hurt Minnesota’s “backbone” industry, the medical device industry, by giving other countries competitive advantage.
“We have more oil in just three western states than all of Saudi Arabia — go get it! Why not?” Bachmann said about the chance of seeing $2 a gallon gas again.
The congresswoman spent about 90 minutes at the cafe, circulating through the kitchen to meet staff before stepping outside to address a knot of reporters.
“It’s been a wonderful day,” Bachmann said.
“I’m really excited about being able to run again. It’s a wonderful district,” she said.
Bachmann styled herself as making a “very strong” contribution as a presidential candidate — taking the voice of the 6th District to the nation, she said.
Bachmann finished last in the Iowa Caucuses, but lasted longer than former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out before the caucus vote.
In the midst of running for president, she got through bills for the Stillwater bridge, for a veterans clinic in Ramsey, for funding for the St. Cloud Airport, she said.
Indeed, Bachmann, speaking to the ECM Editorial Board, styled the bridge bill as an example of Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, and her all pulling in harness together.
It’s “a remarkable signature achievement,” Bachmann said of the bill clearing the House.
In her appearance before the board, Bachmann spoke of repealing the Affordable Care Act, her unwillingness to raise the national debt ceiling, her frustration over the farm bill stalled in Congress.
Some of Bachmann’s strongest comments were on foreign policy.
The congresswoman was recently hammered by some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for comments concerning the possible infiltration of the U.S. government by radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But Bachmann spoke of visiting soldiers with missing limbs, of family ties to the military, and of perceived defects in the Obama administration Afghan policy lending themselves to the further maiming and killing of U.S. troops.
“I believe we’ve made some very serous mistakes in Afghanistan,” Bachmann said, saying America had been victorious in Afghanistan at one point.
She expressed dismay over so-called insider attacks against U.S. troops in which Afghan soldiers and police, sometime during training, turn their weapons on Americans.
“They have live ammunition. And they turn on the American soldiers and kill them,” Bachmann said.
Bachmann said “absolutely nothing” is being done to prevent these distressing attacks.
“My opinion is we should not have live ammunition in the guns that our Afghan partners have,” Bachmann said of training Afghan troops.
“Because they prove to be untrustworthy for our American soldiers,” she said, suggesting Afghans be trained in the United States, a move allowing for better security screening.
“You can’t have this level of deaths,” she said.
According to NBC News, insider attacks have killed 52 American and other NATO troops so far this year.
Additionally, Bachmann expressed chagrin over the administration’s perceived unwillingness to attack fertilizer plants in Pakistan, arguably an American ally, from which insurgents are obtaining materials for bombs. Bachmann serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
“I get very emotional about this issue,” Bachmann said.
While saying she did not like to behave in a partisan manner on foreign policy, if the problems of insider attacks and hidden explosives are not remedied, maybe the United States should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan immediately, she argued.
“Right now, I would not send my sons or my daughters to that conflict,” Bachmann said. “I wouldn’t want to send them. And if I won’t send them, I don’t want to send any other people’s children as well.”
Bachmann indicated she does not regret her comments questioning the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on the U.S. government — former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson recently wrote that Americans have rejected the perceived McCarthy-like tactics and that Bachmann was in free fall.
“Since we (Bachmann and other members of Congress) asked those questions and it turned into a fire storm, we’re standing on even more solid granite than we did before that time,” Bachmann said.
“I am not against Muslims,” she said.
“Our children have very strong friendships with Muslims,” Bachmann said.
“We’ve invited them into our home and they’ve slept in our home before. So we certainly are not anti-Muslim,” she said.
But she’ll oppose any threat against U.S. interests from religious or nonreligious groups, Bachmann said.
“I’m not going to be cowed by threats of political correctness,” she said.
Political science Professor Stephen Frank of St. Cloud State University believes the race between Bachmann and Graves is competitive.
He considers Graves a solid candidate — better than some Bachmann has faced before — and sees Graves having the funding to mount a serious campaign.
“You don’t have to spend the most money. You have to have enough money, and spend it early,” said Frank.
Bachmann’s presidential run, Frank said, was not necessarily helpful to her.
It drew scrutiny that other congressional candidates normally escape, he said.
While some voters might be pleased with what they saw of Bachmann, others may not have been.
“Does this mean Bachmann will lose — no,” Frank said.
“It’s very difficult to knock off an incumbent congress person,” he said.
Frank, like Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute political science professor, is skeptical the proposed marriage amendment will affect the 6th District race to any extent.
Many students at St. Cloud State University, for instance, vote in their hometowns, not in the 6th District, Frank said.
Jacobs, in an email, said Bachmann as an incumbent should be cruising to victory instead of needing to fight for her seat and drain GOP resources that could be going to battleground districts such as the 1st and 8th.
Even so, the 6th District was conservative and Republican prior to redistricting and even more so after. As currently constructed, only 43 percent voted for Obama in 2008, noted Jacobs.
Speaking this summer, Graves said he liked Bachmann as a person, but not her politics.
“I think Congresswoman Bachmann epitomizes a lot, if not all, that’s wrong with Washington. Which is gridlock, which is lack of civility, lack of common good, and a lack of trying to get things done for the future,” said Graves.
“I think it’s that time the 6th District in Minnesota has on-the-ground, full-time representation,” he said.
While it has been reported in the national media that Graves and Independence Party (IP) officials struck an agreement on not having an IP candidate run in the 6th District — the Graves campaign has heralded the contest as a clean one-on-one — IP party officials say allegations that the IP and Graves colluded are false.
“The 6th Congressional District membership saw no prospect or candidate for Congress worthy of their support in 2012,” 6th Congressional District IP Chair Steve Laitinen said in a press release.
In 2010 Bachmann won about 53 percent of the vote in a three-way race in the 6th District, two years earlier winning about 46 percent of the vote in a contest in which the IP candidate took 10 percent of the vote.
In 2006, Bachmann won 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race, running against Democrat and child safety advocate Patty Wetterling and an IP candidate.