Rebounding from her failed presidential bid, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann is setting her sights on re-election to the House — but she faces a tough battle to retain her seat in a redrawn Minnesota district.
One recent poll showed Bachmann’s favorability rating among Minnesota voters at just 34 percent.
And the Minnesota congresswoman’s national base of conservative donors may be tiring of her pleas for money, as she carries a $1 million presidential campaign debt from her fumbled bid.
“May God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.” With those words, Bachmann departed the Republican presidential arena in January, following a disappointing sixth place finish in Iowa.
Many were surprised that one of the conservative movement’s newest icons would suffer such a disastrous defeat. But a series of fumbles and gaffes on the campaign trail not only caused her campaign to go into a tailspin, it tarnished her most important asset: her ability to raise funds from the grassroots across the nation.
During the presidential race tea partyers rallied to her side, despite a series of misstatements (that HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, for example) and campaign goofs.
The congresswoman’s presidential effort seemed to unravel in the days leading up to the Iowa caucus, when her state chairman Kent Sorenson suddenly announced he was quitting her campaign to join Ron Paul’s team.
An angered Bachmann went on radio and claimed that Sorenson told her he had been offered a big paycheck to join the Paul team. But Bachmann’s accusation seemed desperate and trumped up when Sorenson flat-out denied he had that conversation. Another member of her campaign team also denied Bachmann’s claim.
Bachmann’s Iowa travails may be following her to Minnesota, where her once safe congressional seat is now in jeopardy, thanks to both re-districting and a feeling among GOPers back home that Bachmann turned her back on them to run for president, a job she simply wasn’t qualified to fill.
Last week, Bachmann announced she'll run for re-election in Minnesota’s 6th congressional district, her old district. But the 6th was redrawn as a result of a state judicial panel, placing her home outside of it and offering a less favorable political landscape.
Bachmann would have faced an eventual battle against six-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum if she decided to run in the new 4th District, where her home is located.
In her speech suspending her presidential run, Bachmann said she would be “forever grateful” to Iowans for launching her to political prominence in the Ames straw poll in August.
Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, spent six months on the campaign trail portraying herself as a native Iowan.
“I think that makes it harder to come back to the state of Minnesota and look your constituents in the eye and say, by the way, I haven’t really been doing my job for the past year, and at the same time I’ve been talking about how I really love Iowa . . . [but] I really want my job back,” says David Schultz, a Hamlin University election law professor and political expert.
Just one day before Bachmann announced on Jan. 25 that she intends to seek a fourth term, a Public Policy Polling survey found that she is viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of her state’s voters, compared with 34 percent favorable. Also according to that survey, Minnesotans said by a 57 to 37 percent margin that Bachmann should not run again.
There are other factors complicating a Bachmann re-election bid. As a result of re-districting, the demographics of her new district have changed. She’ll have a lot of new voters to meet. Also, the state Republican Party might not be in a position to offer her much help. Pundits say Minnesota’s GOP is in disarray, and faces a $2 million debt of its own.
Raising money has always been one of Bachmann’s strong suits, and may have been a key reason why, despite scant legislative or private sector experience, she decided to run for the presidency.
During her 2010 House race Bachmann was among the biggest congressional fundraisers in the nation, pulling in $13.5 million.
An attractive and articulate conservative female, Bachmann resonated with appearances on Fox News and even clashes with liberals like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. She soon hit the direct mail and online fundraising circuit with hyped claims that Democrats were targeting her in her re-election despite the fact she held a safe congressional district (she won re-election there in 2010 by a margin of 52 percent to 40 percent). Still, the national money poured into her coffers.
Fellow congressional Republicans were not so much jealous as furious.
“Bachmann raked in millions with claims she was in trouble and it wasn’t true. That money could have been used to help real conservatives in the  congressional races that really needed that money. It could have won us an additional 5 to 6 Republican seats in close races,” a senior Republican congressman tells Newsmax.
Bachmann promised tea party donors across the nation she would be a thorn in the establishment GOP’s side in Washington and decided to make a bid for president. She started with a transfer of $2 million from her congressional coffers, then went on to raise another $5 million during her failed bid for president.
Now she’s out of money and facing voters in a redrawn district with wary national conservative donors. “This has been one big ego trip for her,” the senior congressman said. “I hope donors figure this out.”
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