Bachmann vs. Clark -- how close a race in the 6th?by Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
East Bethel, Minn. — Since her last election win in 2008, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's national profile has only grown. Bachmann, a Republican representing Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, is a regular on talk shows, a main voice for the tea party movement, and a prominent fundraiser.
All of that might suggest she'll have an easy time in her re-election bid this year against her DFL opponent, Tarryl Clark. But some political experts say it won't necessarily be a cake walk.
The 6th district forms a kind of backward "C" around parts of the Twin Cities. It includes rural parts of Stearns County at the northwest end, and stretches to Stillwater and parts of Woodbury on the southeastern end.
It is also the most solidly Republican district in the state, according to the Partisan Voting Index developed by The Cook Political Report. On average, the district's voters leaned seven points more Republican than the nation as a whole during the last two presidential elections.
"It's always been on the conservative side," said Kay Wolsborn, a political scientist at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Collegeville.
"Certainly, Wright County has been very consistently and strongly supportive of George Bush and of the Republican candidates in general, as has been the case in Sherburne County," said Wolsborn.
But Wolsborn says the picture is more nuanced than you might think. Even though Stearns County is mostly conservative fiscally and socially, the urban area -- including St. Cloud and Collegeville -- have "Democratic enclaves," said Wolsborn.
That may account for why Tarryl Clark, Michele Bachmann's DFL opponent in the U.S. House contest, has held on to her job as the state senator representing St. Cloud for five years.
Wolsborn also notes that Barack Obama carried Washington County in the last presidential election, and grabbed about 48 percent of the votes in Anoka County.
So despite the district's general conservatism, she wouldn't paint it entirely red for Republican.
"Rather than saying it's red or purple or blue, it's plaid," Wolsborn said, adding that she thinks Clark has a chance against Bachmann.
Eric Ostermeier, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, agrees. He says Clark's key strategy will likely be to paint Bachmann as too conservative for her district. He says Bachmann's ideological ranking by the National Journal exceeds the district's Republican leaning.
"The Republican tilt of the 6th Congressional District only makes it the 142nd most Republican district in the country, whereas Rep. Bachmann's ideological score, as ranked by National Journal, is the 28th most conservative," Ostermeier said.
State Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton says academics don't understand how elections are won or lost. He says Bachmann is closely in tune with her constituency.
"Michele Bachmann has done nothing but win elections since she became a state senator back in 2000," Sutton said.
Sutton dismisses the point made by some political scientists that Bachmann only won the last election by a thin margin.
"A win is a win, isn't it? She won!" said Sutton, noting that Bachmann pulled through in a year that was tough for Republicans in general.
This year, the general expectation is that Republicans have an advantage over Democrats, which would give Bachmann even better odds.
Sutton also says he's glad lots of money is flowing into this race. Though Bachmann is outperforming Clark in fundraising, Clark is also amassing mountains of cash. Liberal groups like Democracy for America and EMILY's List have been raising cash for Clark in order to beat Bachmann.
"I'm very pleased they're putting a lot of effort there. That means it's money [the Democrats] won't be spending elsewhere in Minnesota, and it means we'll take that Senate District 15 seat Tarryl Clark is giving up," he said.
But Sutton says there are a couple parts of the 6th district he regards as battlegrounds -- those counties that pulled strongly for Obama in 2008.
Gary and Estelle Rolstad will be voting in one of those areas -- in Anoka. They say they're not party-line voters. But this time, Estelle Rolstad plans to vote against Bachmann.
"She strikes me as a very divisive person, and I'm very tired of people who are so divisive and who say everything's wrong and who don't make anything right," said Estelle Rolstad.
Another Anoka County resident, Darren Vickers, says he voted for Bachmann last time and will again. He says he likes her ideas about shrinking government.
And he's got a hunch she'll pull through.
"People in my area are mostly Bachmann supporters. I just think she'll probably win," said Vickers.
For now at least, Bachmann does seem to have the upper hand. A poll conducted in July by KSTP-TV and SurveyUSA put her ahead of Clark by 9 points.
In that same poll, Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson had 6 percent. The poll's margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
- Morning Edition, 08/24/2010, 6:25 a.m.