Bachmann-Clark most expensive House race in the countryby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — It probably won't be too long before incumbent Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, and her opponent, DFL state Sen. Tarryl Clark, start exchanging barbs in debates or TV ads.
For now, the candidates are mostly just eyeing each other from their respective piles of money. The contest has become the most expensive U.S. House race in the country. In election filings released last month, both Bachmann and Clark trotted out eye-popping strings of dollar signs.
By the end of the filing period in July, Bachmann had raised more than $4 million.
Meanwhile, Clark had pulled in about $2.4 million.
Bachmann campaign officials say they have raised another $2 million since then. Clark's campaign declined to comment on how much they've pulled in since the July report.
Their fundraising has set records in Minnesota, and elsewhere.
"It is also the most prodigious campaign fundraising that we've seen in the country so far, which is a shocker, when you consider that the media market is not nearly as expensive as those in California, New York, and elsewhere," said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
Jacobs says the stakes are unusually high for a race involving a Congresswoman like Bachmann, who declined an interview for this story.
Bachmann is in her second term in the House. In less than four years in Congress, she has become a celebrity. She's a frequent guest on cable TV talk shows, where she's known for blasting big government and the Obama Administration. And she has recently raised her profile even higher by establishing a tea party caucus in Congress.
Jacobs says that's all attracting gobs of attention -- and money -- to the race.
"Michele Bachmann is a leading conservative figure in Congress. She is a rock star among tea party supporters and, apart from Sarah Palin, is probably one of the most widely followed conservatives in the tea party movement," Jacobs said. "Michele Bachmann, and whoever opposes Michelle Bachmann are going to be national draws."
Clark said Bachmann has made it a national race, added she hasn't "asked for that."
Clark may not have asked for a national spotlight on the race, but she is trying to work it to her advantage. Clark's campaign is playing up Bachmann's national profile, as well as the conjecture, made by some political experts, that Bachmann is positioning herself for a higher office, like the U.S. Senate.
In a recent email to supporters, Clark's campaign said, "Michele Bachmann could be a presidential candidate in 2012." The email went on to solicit donations to Clark to halt Bachmann's ambition.
"If she's interested in a different job, which it appears to be, I guess I'm going to help her to do that," said Clark.
Jed Lewison, a contributing editor at the left-leaning political blog Daily Kos, says Clark's challenge in running against such a national figure is also her opportunity.
"If Bachmann were more focused on the district and less focused on becoming a national lightning rod, she might be in a stronger position electorally. She probably wouldn't raise as much money but wouldn't need to raise as much money," Lewison said.
Bachmann's contributions from outside Minnesota have fueled the theory about her higher ambitions.
Eric Ostermeier, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who writes a blog called Smart Politics, said by his calculations, most of Bachmann's funding came from outside Minnesota.
"Approximately 60 percent of that money for Bachmann has come from out of state. Eleven percent comes from California, 7 percent from Texas, 7 percent from Florida, to the tune of about $1.5 million overall, when you look at all the other 49 states," Ostermeier said.
By contrast, Ostermeier says about 24 percent of Tarryl Clark's large-donor, itemized funds came from out of state.
That percentage has increased since the early days of the campaign, but Ostermeier cautions against reading those numbers as an indictment of Bachmann's support in Minnesota.
While Bachmann is pulling in more out of state dollars than Clark, they're on nearly equal in in-state fundraising, adjusting for the number of days each candidate has been on the campaign trail: Bachmann has raised $1.02 in Minnesota for every dollar raised by Clark.
"For those critics of Michele Bachmann who would say she's only getting her money out of state, this isn't true, she's about 1-to-1 with Tarryl Clark at least in terms fundraising within the state," he said.
Bachmann campaign manager Gina Countryman says she's not thinking about the money in those terms. Countryman sees support for Bachmann coming from lots of places -- and in small amounts.
"Last quarter our average contribution was under $60, and I expect this quarter to be the same," Countryman said.
Regardless of where the money is coming from, both campaigns will likely spend a lot of it in the same place: TV. Get ready for wall to wall ads, especially since the race could be close, according to analysts.
While Clark trailed Bachmann in a recent poll by 9 points, analysts say she's still within striking distance.
- Morning Edition, 08/16/2010, 6:25 a.m.