DFLer Clark hopes for upset in conservative 6th Districtby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
Woodbury, Minn. — In the final weeks leading up to the election, Tarryl Clark has been scurrying around her district, talking to seniors, parade-goers and transportation activists -- happily accepting checks from supporters, including machinist union members.
Clark will need all the checks she can get to unseat U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Republican with national stature as the head of the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House.
But Clark also need to tread carefully while campaigning as a moderate who will work across party lines and reflect the values of Minnesota's 6th District, which the Cook Political Report ranks as the state's most Republican-leaning. Along the way, she'll have to dodge critics who say she's a liberal Democrat.
Take our Select A Candidate quiz to learn which of the 6th District candidates' opinions most closely match your own.
Clark has broken state fundraising records for non-incumbent House candidates this year, raising $3.9 million. But she's battling a conservative media darling and fundraising juggernaut in Bachmann, who has amassed more than $10 million in her re-election bid.
That's more than any other House candidate in the country has ever pulled in.
Clark has been trying to use Bachmann's national stature and celebrity against her, as she did at a parade in Woodbury in August.
"What I'm hearing over and over is people are fed up and they're frustrated, and they want someone who's actually going to go work for them, not someone who's just running around the country trying to make headlines," Clark said.
Clark grew up in a Republican household in Virginia and Arizona. Her father and two brothers served in the Navy. She studied French and ballet and voted for Ronald Reagan for president -- twice.
"My family was an Eisenhower Republican family: good value for the dollar and you expect a lot out of your investment," Clark said. "But you are willing to invest in things, making sure there's good infrastructure, making sure the schools are funded."
Disenchanted with GOP policies, she became a Democrat.
"I thought that the Republican Party valued families, and honestly when they started talking about family values all the time, it seemed they were abandoning families," she said.
After college, Clark took on the kind of work she thought would help families in need. She developed teen pregnancy prevention programs, counseled pregnant teens, and helped women get prenatal care.
In 1985 she married her husband Doug, a St. John's University alum, and they settled down in the St. Cloud area. With two sons under age 4, Clark pursued a law degree.
Clark went on to work as a lobbyist on issues relating to seniors and children. As a supporter of legal abortion in the conservative St. Cloud area, Clark ran for a Minnesota Senate seat twice before winning in 2005.
"She's been a really reliable fighter for little kids, particularly low-income children," said Todd Otis, president of Ready 4 K, which advocates for the increased school readiness of young, often poor, kids.
Otis says his group is not formally endorsing Clark. But he's known her for 20 years and praises her willingness to work with Republicans and business leaders to launch an early childhood pilot, which provided state subsidies for parents to pay for preschool programs.
"She championed the early childhood stuff and the committee was able to get this pilot," he notes.
The next year, Clark rose to a position of power as Assistant Majority Leader, a move that raised eyebrows in the Legislature.
"There was always a question of why she had such a fast ramp-up to those positions of notable standing in the caucus," said State Sen. Warren Limmer, Maple Grove.
Limmer said he and many other legislators grumbled then that Clark wasn't experienced enough to ascend so quickly to a leadership position.
Though he considers Clark very personable and a good communicator, Limmer he believes she's often charged with masking a liberal message with more neutral rhetoric.
"Let's say tax increases, more regulation, let's say it's what some would consider extreme environmentalism," he said. "She had the ability to soften the rhetoric. It didn't change the legislation, it just softened the presentation."
Limmer and other Republicans say that Clark's legacy in the State Senate will be her vote earlier this year that raised income taxes for the state's top earners. Clark disappeared for 20 minutes while the Senate voted.
Clark, who later said her son was sick and she was speaking to his doctor, eventually came in to cast the decisive vote in favor of the bill, which Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed. She said the bill would've held taxes down for 95 percent of Minnesotans.
That's the kind of middle class tax protection Clark said she would pursue in Washington.
- All Things Considered, 10/25/2010, 5:24 p.m.