Thursday, October 15, 2009

Minnesota Michele

My native state of Minnesota has seemed to produce more than its share of colorful political characters over the past few decades. For the most part, they have been members of the Democratic Party's Minnesota affiliate, the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. Names that come easily to mind include Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Paul Wellstone. Outside of that party, there is, last, but by all means not least, the third-party former governor, Jesse Ventura.

Now, even with the lame-duck Repubican governor being seen as a dark-horse but plausible candidate for president, he is not the most-talked-about politician in that state, and not even the most-talked-about Republican. That title goes to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota's sixth district. The award has been confirmed by her inclusion among the news that's fit to print.

Since the 1960 census, Minnesota has held even with eight U.S. House seats. The current sixth district bears some resemblance to how it looked during the 1960s, but, in the meantime, it has shifted eastward, and become less rural and more suburban. In its current incarnation, it stretches from the Lake Wobegon region of central Minnesota to northern and eastern suburbs and exurbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Minnesota might be reduced to seven seats after the next census. If that happens, it's possible that the sixth will cease to exist in any recognizable form.)

Historically, the parties have batted the district back and forth like a tennis ball. In its current form, Bachmann and her Republican predecessor Mark Kennedy have won it by margins ranging from three to 22 points. Demographically, it's the only district in Minnesota that would be likely to elect anyone with a hard-right image such as Bachmann's.

Her voting record bears out her right-wing credentials. The American Conservative Union rated her 100% for 2007 and 2008. That was their highest rating for any Minnesotan; a fellow Republican, Jim Ramstad, who at that time represented other Minneapolis suburbs in the House, rated only 44%. At the other end of the spectrum, the Americans for Democratic Action confirms the analysis, giving Bachmann a "liberal score" of zero for 2008.

Where does she go from here?

One option would be to stay in the House, accumulate seniority, and eventually chair a committee or take a leadership position. That would be difficult to do in what is not a safe Republican district, in a state facing a potentially bruising redistricting fight.

I agree with the analysis in the Times article, that she would have a tough time getting elected to statewide office. Successful Republican candidates in Minnesota have tended to be moderate, or at least to cultivate a moderate image. One exception is a previous sixth-district congressman, Rod Grams, who won a U.S. Senate seat in the Republican mid-term landslide of 1994, but was unable to hold on to it.

It wouldn't surprise me if she turned her side job into a full time role as a cable news pundit.

I've stopped watching cable news. I might tune in if there's breaking news (I mean real breaking news; i.e., maybe 1% of those occasions when they spread "Breaking News" across the screen in a large typeface). So, I have not seen any of the congresswoman's performances on those channels. But, they seem to like her, so that could well be a future option.

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