The colorful and controversial congresswoman won’t run for re-election

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporterOne of the most colorful and controversial Minnesota politicians in a generation is stepping down.Republican 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced by video on Wednesday (May 29) she had decided not to seek a fifth term in the U.S. House.

“I have every confidence that if I ran, I would defeat again the individual who I defeated last year,” Bachmann said of a rematch against hotelier Jim Graves, a Democrat she nudged aside by just 4,296 votes last election coming off her presidential bid.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann speaking on the Republican campaign trail in Ames, Iowa, earlier this year.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann speaking on the Republican campaign trail in Ames, Iowa.

In the video, Bachmann said she considered not running for Congress in 2012, but thought stepping aside would not allow enough time for a new Republican candidate to assemble a campaign.

“I’ve never considered holding public office to be an occupation,” Bachmann said.

Bachmann said the ongoing investigation into allegations her presidential campaign violated campaign law in its dealing with an Iowa elected official did not influence her decision.

She has no reason to believe her campaign acted improperly, Bachmann said.

“My future is full, it is limitless,” she said.

Republican 6th Congressional District Chairman Luke Yurczyk believes that had Bachmann run again, she would have won.

The 6th District is very conservative, he said.

“I think she has a good legacy,” Yurczyk said of Bachmann’s standing among district Republicans.

“She was always passionate and outspoken,” he said.

Yurczyk, speaking on Wednesday morning, said it was too early to know the number of Republicans who will vie to replace Bachmann.

Yurczyk expected a good number.

“I think we’re going to need a new ‘Welcome’ mat at the door,” Yurczyk quipped.

Early names surfacing as possible Republican candidates are state Representatives Matt Dean of Dellwood and Peggy Scott of Andover. Among state senators, Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake and Michelle Benson of Ham Lake are seen as potential candidates.

Speaking Wednesday morning, Benson said she needed to talk to her family and others before making such a big decision as to run for Congress.

“There’s a lot of things that have to fall into place,” Benson said.

At this point, Benson is neither saying “Yes” or “No,” she said.

Former state Representative Phil Krinkie, whom Bachmann defeated in the Republican endorsement contest when first running for Congress, is interested.

“This might be a second chance for me,” Krinkie said.

Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, joked that he’s so frugal he still has  some of his original Congressional campaign signs.

Another possible Republican 6th District candidate is former Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano. Emmer unsuccessfully sought the governorship in 2010, losing to then former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton.

In an email, Emmer said he has received many calls from supporters throughout the 6th District.

“As a result, I am strongly considering running for the open seat being vacated by our Congresswomen,” Emmer said. “It is clear that our nation faces a perilous future as we are drowning in debt.  We must get our nation’s fiscal house in order,” he said, in part.

Emmer said he has been discussing a possible run for Congress with his family.

“We’ve learned campaigns are a family effort and before I enter a race, I want to make sure my family and closest supporters are on board,” he said.

Democrats did not use soft tones in commenting on Bachmann’s departure.

“Minnesota’s long national embarrassment is coming to an end,” DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement.

“When you think of some of the national leaders we have sent to Washington D.C. from Minnesota – people like Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Gene McCarthy, Orville Freeman, and others – it was such a tragedy that our state was represented by someone like Michelle Bachmann who was so out of the mainstream of even her conservative-leaning district,” he said.

The Graves campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, views Bachmann’s decision not to seek reelection as a body blow to Graves.

“He (Graves) only had a chance against a wounded Bachmann,” Abeler said.

With Bachmann gone, the campaign funding Graves might have expected in a run against a Republican celebrity is less likely to appear, Abeler argued.

Former 6th District Republican Chairwoman Jen Nisk, now a Minnesota Republican party official, found out about Bachmann’s decision like other people did on Wednesday  morning, she said.

Nisk found the video “very personal,” a message from a congresswoman district Republicans “know and love.”

Bachmann, 57, lit up the Minnesota political constellation like few politicians in recent decades.

While known for misstatements, Bachmann, like former Reform Party governor Jesse Ventura, was a such a marketable commodity as to become an action figure.

Indeed, Bachmann’s political career attracted global following.

Former Ventura Spokesman John Wodele saw similarities between Bachmann and the former Reform Party governor who swept through the 6th District in his historic gubernatorial election.

“They have a deep penchant for stating the truth as they see it,” Wodele said during Bachmann’s presidential run.

“They’re both very smart,” said Wodele.

Neither backs down.

Karen Morehead, a member of the Forest Lake School Board, said last fall during a Bachmann campaign visit to Forest Lake the congresswoman was the same person she knew years ago.

“She hasn’t changed one bit,” Morehead said.

Morehead said she had never heard Bachmann say anything bad about her critics.

“She prays for them,” Morehead said.

“People who don’t like her, they hate her,” Morehead said at the time.

Bachmann lives in the 4th Congressional District, not the 6th.

Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum issued a statement on her constituent’s decision to not run again.

“Rep. Bachmann’s retirement from Congress must have been a difficult personal decision,” McCollum said.

“I wish Michele well and hope that she will fulfill her commitment to voters by serving out the remaining year and half in Congress before moving onto a new chapter in her life,” she said.

Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].

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