I'm back from abroad and I only wrote one joke the whole time I was there. Here it is:
"Now they're saying that Herman Cain got the idea for his 9-9-9 plan while he was chasing a German secretary around his office."
Pretty good, eh? God, I miss writing funny stuff like that, all the time. But there's plenty of Bachmann material on my desk now that must be dealt with. So down to business.
First of all, the redistricting. People were talking about the possibility of effectively ending a Bachmann career via redistricting as long ago as fall of 2006. (That's right, they were talking about it even before Bachmann was elected to Congress.) Now that redistricting finally is on the table, the DFL plan seems to suggest that popular liberal Dem incumbent Betty McCollum will run against Bachmann.
But the McCollum team clearly isn't happy about the prospect of running against Bachmann in the redrawn district. Why aren't they happy about the possibility?
First of all: I'm not blowing any confidences by telling you about McCollum's attitude... it's up there at MPR's website:
...one of the state's Congressional members is not pleased with the map (of the DFL Party's proposed redistricting plans.) DFL Rep. Betty McCollum's chief of staff Bill Harper issued a statement blasting DFL Party Chair Ken Martin and the members of the DFL Party's legal team...
...The DFL map pairs McCollum and Bachmann.
(The link to the entire story is below, along with its links to the proposed map.)
Why would Betty McCollum be unhappy about the prospect of facing Michele Bachmann in a redrawn district that (strictly as a matter of numbers) would lean DFL? (A Minnesota Progressive Project numbers guy figures that if the redrawn district goes through as proposed, McCollum would come with a 61% average Dem advantage.) If that's the case, why's McCollum saying "ouch," and so publicly?
A question I got from the same numbers guy was this:
"Would Michele Bachmann run in a district that was based in (politically diverse) St. Paul?"
Here's how one of the MPP guys answered that question:
I don't think there's any chance Bachmann would run in the 4th as drawn, regardless of where she lives.
Politicians go where their constituents are and over 83% of Bachmann's would still be in the 6th, and the 6th would be made more Republican by about a point. Under these circumstances, why in the world would she run in the 4th, against a Democratic incumbent in a 60% Democratic district and facing an almost entirely new set of voters?
It would take hubris/stupidity of a magnitude that I doubt Bachmann possesses.
The part about Bachmann not having the necessary "hubris/stupidity" to do something made me smile. But otherwise the point is well taken, the author has a good argument. There's a lot of different "kinds" of people gathered in St. Paul. It's not like Bachmann's extraordinary existing district: one that features a numerical majority of white, very conservative, very Republican, very Christian voters, plus an extra-large measure of right wing conspiracy nuts who are very active.
Look: the factors governing this prediction (where and how will Bachmann run, if she returns to Minnesota, if she totally craps out on the national stage and is denied any role in the White House election and future administration)...well, all of this is so speculative and conditional and outside our control that...well, come on...
But the factors are going to be factors anyway, no matter where Bachmann runs, no matter where Bachmann goes. I address these factors in my answer to the same question:
Would Michele Bachmann choose to run in a district that was based in St. Paul?
One of the biggest factors in the "matrix" answer to questions about Bachmann's future is the state of her Minnesota reputation after the smoke clears from this presidential campaign thing. Regarding her presidential campaign, everybody around here and elsewhere has been saying "stick a fork in her, she's done." But that's what they were saying about Gingrich earlier this summer, and look who's the leader at this writing in Iowa. (One thing that's effing up this matrix and a reliable prediction is the incredible weakness of the GOP presidential field.)
In my opinion it's still true that anything can happen. It would be easy to say that "Bachmann's over" if she was "like Fred Thompson" in the last race. But she's not like Fred Thompson, she doesn't quit and go home when her party turns on her. She's got huge resources outside the party--when those turn on her, then you can say for sure: she's done.
And: the GOP field is much weaker than last time around; so weak that party chieftains will allow Gingrich in. Privately they hate him, he ran the party and Congress like Stalin and he's a vengeful prick...but now they are willing to tolerate him because the field's so weak and crazy. See how things can change in an instant?
Anyway: if the "stick a fork" people are correct, it doesn't make any difference. Even if her presidential campaign is over (this time)--she remains a force in US politics, a figurehead for the religious right and ultra-conservatives, a force in elections via castigation of "soft" leading Republicans, a possible kingmaker in national politics of the right, an influence on the crackpot policies we see coming out of the Republican Congress.
But we'll suppose the "stick a fork" crew is right and the White House stuff is over. Suppose she really is done (presidentially), doesn't make the veep slot, and comes back to Minnesota to run in the McCollum district "redrawn as proposed."
1) Even if Bachmann returns to MN under the burden of a national media narrative indicating that she's a nut and a loser: it's possible for her to run in St. Paul-based district. Maybe not win, but to receive the nod, run--and tie up millions of Dem activist dollars in doing so.
I always stress that the heart of Bachmann's career is the conservative evangelical thing, but you have to remember that the "secular talk radio right" audience has always been for her, too. I'm talking about the "Jason Lewis/garage logic" conservatives (those are the names of popular "Rush Limbaugh knockoff" radio programs in the Twin Cities market. That media, all the very active right activist that parrot those views, and that "lower my taxes AND my IQ" demographic--all of them go for Bachmann in the suggested McCollum match-up.
These media, voters and activists have always been "in the bag" for Bachmann, even when she was running to the right of the regular MN GOP. (It's true that Bachmann was "tea party" before the thing even had a name.) They count, a lot, in St. Paul and the outlying area.
2) I was told that McCollum has never run in a hard race in her district. That's also true of Bachmann: the district she ran in favored any conservative republican from the get-go. Any conservative GOP nominee in the 6th as currently constituted comes in at, I think, a seven point advantage.
If Bachmann comes in and turns the guns of "secular talk radio" and "conservative evangelical talk radio" on McCollum--people in the proposed district will suddenly find themselves debating about whether McCollum "really is some kind of closeted leftist tax-hiking communist." That's what will happen, if Bachmann comes back to Minnesota with the backing of the Minnesota right, secular and evangelical.
A Bachmann run would still have to be condoned by the state GOP. (I say "condoned" because--just as in D.C.--a lot of senior Republicans in MN hated Bachmann for regularly run to the right of them. The teabaggers and evangelical conservatives would have to fight for her, to super-impose her on the party as the evangelical right did in 2006 when she was competing for the GOP congressional nomination for the first time.)
But Bachmann has always beaten Bachmann the Minnesota state GOP, sometimes humiliating them with her "outside the party" political resources.
Once the secular and conservative Christian talk radio guns are then turned on McCollum, she does indeed have a lot to worry about. They will "John Kerry" her without mercy, every time they talk about that race, in order to take the seat for MB or weaken McC the next time around.
That kind of media amounts to millions of dollars of free political advertising in the form of "de facto" negative propaganda against McCollum. I'm told that McCollum has never experienced anything like that in her district: I think this scenario worries her. There is nothing, in the way of local broadcast and print media, to launch a counter-attack from the liberal side.(Last night after I published this on a Minnesota political blog, I learned that McCollum was already fund-raising on the basis of a "fear the Bachmann" scenario.)
If you think I'm being a hand-wringer, look back to what the Bachmann side was willing to do to Dem opponent Patty Wetterling in 2006. "Wetterling pals around with terrorists, she's not Christian enough, she's big government," etc. (Bachmann didn't do that to Dem opponent Elwyn Tinklenberg because she didn't need to...her campaign properly treated the Tinklenberg challenge with contempt, no worries, until MB herself effed up with the comments on Hardball and inadvertently sent millions into Tinklenberg's campaign chest.)
But McCollum will find herself savaged, and she has a record in office that can be spun against her. Bachmann, on the other hand, will be running on sheer demagoguery and smears (as usual) and, possibly, a job-creating bridge project in Minnesota (see below.)
3) What about the money? Even if Bachmann comes out of the prez thing like a cooked turkey, a victory for her in a MN district still represents a seat in Congress for James Dobson, Pat Robertson and the national evangelical right that I'm always writing about.
Those guys don't want to give up any seat in Congress that they effectively own. (It's significant that one of the people that been floated as a possible successor nominee to Bachmann is Matt Dean--a Bachmann acolyte and supporter with the conservative evangelical "faith and values" agenda, but without all the "what a nut" baggage.) In any case, the national Christian right is interested in keeping control of as many seats in Congress as they can. And Bachmann's been one of their puppets: forever. As long as she in, that's a seat in Congress for the national evangelical right.
All of the Bachmann elections so far have been "national" elections in the sense that money pours in from out of state to help her (In the Tinklenberg and Clark races, money poured in to hurt her.) That's made any Bachmann election a "national" contest, not a local one.
If Bachmann comes back still enjoying the support of the national religious right, the Club for Growth, and the secular Republican activists and tea party types around the country: she has a shot at getting all that big money again, this time to keep the seat conservative.
So that's another reason that McCollum has to fear a Bachmann challenge: it's not clear that the same amount of "big money" will be coming in to help a Bachmann challenger. The money that you guys, the grassroots/netroots liberals and progressives around the country, sent in the last two times. I'm sorry to say it, but your attention span is notoriously short, there will be even more opponents to fight next time, and we all know your funds are limited. And I think that a lot of you will perceive "failed presidential candidate" Michele Bachmann as "a local MN problem," concluding that on the basis of all this "stick a fork in her, she's done" thinking that's going around now. (She's not "just a local problem for us," that was never true. She was one of the builders of this latest, craziest incarnation of the GOP you face.)
Plenty of Minnesota activists on the liberal and progressive side resent the funds that donors have been sending all these years in these failed attempts to unseat Bachmann. (I don't, but they do.) They're want that money that you were sending in to fight Bachmann, to fight their own battles against other conservative MN politicians. They're not going to be all that sympathetic to another cash-eating fundraiser to stop Bachmann, again.
Bottom line: sixty-one per cent Dem or no, McCollum may not find the Tinklenberg/Tarryl Clark level of funding at her disposal--and may find herself facing a well-heeled Bachmann with national campaign resources, including free media and a large opposition volunteer pool and GOTV.
4) The Stillwater bridge. This is a project that calls for the building of a major new bridge from Minnesota to Wisconsin: a federally funded infrastructure project that will skip over longstanding environmental protection laws to create thousands of new jobs in the area. Some people in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been looking forward to this bridge for decades, but it's never gone through because of opposition from environmentalists, locals, and existing federal law.
Bachmann is an advocate for the building of the bridge. If the project is green-lighted, that solves one of the biggest problems that Bachmann has had to face in terms of credibility. That problem is the fact that she's done nothing in her entire career that could be perceived as benefiting her constituents economically or legislatively. I mean no real legislative achievements, after eleven years as an elected official.
But next time around may be different, if that bridge project is signed, sealed and delivered. She will take credit for it, it will be a job creator, it will show that she "can work across the aisle to get things done." (Bullshit, but that's how she and the GOP will pitch it to voters.) Bachmann's conservatives will not hold against her the fact that she is practicing Keynesian economics to secure deficit tax dollars to create employment in Minnesota. (They never do, because conservatism is not about principle...it's about power for the right.)
And she's got Minnesota Senators Franken and Klobuchar on board for this. The federal spending on the bridge project will create a little construction/jobs boomlet in the area, spending and salaries will radiate locally, turning into shopping and more jobs. That's how liberal government is supposed to work in tough economic times. If Bachmann cared about what happened to families in her district, she would have been working with Democrats all along to obtain funding for these kind of projects...but she had her eyes aimed on higher political goals outside the district (so screw the families and their home foreclosures.)
As I wrote at least two years ago: Bachmann was always just one legislative achievement away from effectively negating her "do nothing" record as a legislator. Becoming "the legislator who finally got that bridge project through, after decades of partisan divide"--is within Bachmann's reach. I don't think McCollum would like facing the prospect of facing a Michele Bachmann who's suddenly presented by the local press as "a doer."
The above are some of the factors that will determine whether Bachmann could run a credible campaign in a St. Paul based district. All of these are highly dependent, and some of them are entirely out of the control of the local Dems (for example, MB's standing with the MN GOP and conservative Christian right, post-presidential campaign.)
Speculation, but the factors are real. They will have to be considered by McCollum or any future Dem opponent--if Bachmann comes back to MN (as opposed to going on some lucrative "pundit" circuit or taking an appointment in a Republican admin.)
And you should be aware of this stuff even if the press and career politicians don't want to discuss these as factors. Bachmann and the movement behind her do not "stop" influencing national policy simply because her presidential bid fails. Note that the career of Michele Bachmann and her activation of a right wing base in my state and nationally (secular conservative, evangelical conservative, tea party) has already cast a very long shadow...
...a shadow over 1) over my state's GOP leadership, 2) the choice of a gubernatorial candidate in the last election, 3) the composition of our state house and the right wing policy proposals coming out of it, and 4) the type of Minnesotan Republican candidates that can even consider running. As for the shadow her career has already cast over the national Republican policy and government: look at the quality of the Republican presidential field as presented in tone of their debates, look at the entry of nuthouse right wing policy goals into the mainstream of American political dynamics. Bachmann didn't do all that by herself, but she was on the cutting edge of it and conservative haters won't forget that, even if her prez bid is over.
(Footnote: Let me point out my own ignorance of other factors that will affect Minnesota decisions and outcomes. I freely admit to colleagues on my Minnesota blog that I don't know anything about electoral dynamics outside the Sixth Congressional district contests. My ignorance means that when I see a proposal for a re-drawn district map, I don't see issues that are instantly apparent to people who know the voting patterns in the areas affected. There are local activists and experienced campaign workers who can you a lot more about what is actually going on in the neighborhoods and constituencies than I can--and I will rely on those guys for their opinion on how numbers and trends will play out after redistricting is...done.)
LINK to MPR article on McCollum's objection to a Bachmann matchup.