No sooner had Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota released her video on Wednesday saying she would not seek re-election than the speculation and early maneuvering began over who would run to succeed her.
Republicans in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District — and many in Washington — said that they were more confident of holding the district with a fresh candidate than the controversial incumbent.
As chairman of the House Tea Party Caucus and a popular figure among conservatives nationwide, four-termer Bachmann also was a major Democratic target in her home turf, which is the most Republican district in the Gopher State.
Bachmann held off Democrat Jim Graves by less than 4,300 votes in November, making the race the third-tightest Republican victory in the country.
Graves, an area businessman, told the local CBS-TV affiliate soon after Bachmann's bombshell announcement that the congresswoman "could read the tea leaves" by passing on a rematch with him. One hurdle for Bachmann was a pending civil suit in Iowa over the use of campaign funds while she was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
With Bachmann out, Republican attention was focused on a handful of area politicians with conservative credentials and tea party support for the suburban St. Paul district.
The most talked-of prospect as a congressional candidate is Tom Emmer, former state legislator and the nearly successful Republican candidate for governor in 2010. Reached by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Emmer said he was "stunned" by Bachmann's exodus and was considering a House bid, but said "it's way too early to say what I might do."
Former state GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge also is being mentioned as a leading candidate for the Bachmann seat. Shortridge has one of the best Rolodexes in state politics from his years as a political operative and top aide to former Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy.
Shortridge told Newsmax that he has had calls from various conservative groups urging him to run, but has made no decision.
By far the most intriguing prospect is former state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, whose name resurfaced after a year in the political wilderness.
As majority leader, Koch became a heroine to the right for standing firm against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed tax increases. She was considered the heiress apparent to Bachmann when it seemed the congresswoman would relinquish her seat to run for president in 2012.
But in late 2011, Koch rocked the state by revealing she had had "an improper relationship" with a male staffer and announced she would not stand for re-election.
Weeks after former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford won a House race and showed that personal scandal was no longer a "kiss of death" for Republicans, talk of Koch's political resurrection has begun. The former legislator told the Star-Tribune she has "been getting a lot of calls" about a bid for Congress.
Another favorite on the right is Phil Krinkie, former state legislator and now president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. Also mentioned as candidates are state Rep. Tim Sanders of Blaine and state Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, both of whom voiced interest in the race to the press.
Under party rules, candidates first compete for the party blessing at a district-wide convention. But the competition continues in a primary if the runners-up secure enough votes at the convention to challenge the endorsed candidate.
Right now, signs are strong that there will be a crowded Republican field that goes on to a spirited convention and, in all likelihood, their contest will spill over to a primary.
But there also is a strong feeling among Republicans in Minnesota's Sixth District that as hard-fought as their nomination battle might be, they will go into the 2014 election in strong shape with a new nominee.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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