Maybe it’s because I know the electoral history better than most because I briefly managed the 2009 campaign of Elwyn Tinklenberg, who almost beat her in 2008, but I always assumed Michele Bachmann is running for president because she figured she couldn’t get reelected to Congress. So I’m not at all surprised that she has announced she won’t be running for reelection if she’s still running for President.
There are a few complications here worth noting. First, the AP article points out that she wouldn’t have to file to be on the primary ballot until June, well after most of the has-beens have been eliminated from the presidential field. But that’s just for the primary; in Minnesota, what’s far more important than the primary is the party nominations, conducted through a caucus process.
The candidate with the party endorsement gets to send out mail, do lawnsigns, air TV ads and whatever else to tout they’re the candidate endorsed by their party. For many voters, that’s determinative; other than candidates who can self-fund their campaigns, almost everyone who challenges the party-endorsed candidate in a primary loses. The endorsement is also valuable because the party gives the endorsee access to its voter file, and denies access to the voter file to all other candidates. If necessary, the party conducts a voter contact operation in the primary on behalf of the endorsed candidates. [It was the entry of Taryl Clark in to the 2010 endorsement process that led Tinklenberg to withdraw from the race.]
Party-backed primary campaigns usually aren’t necessary, especially downballot, because candidates who don’t receive the party endorsement usually don’t file for the primary.
While Bachmann has until June to decide on a primary, the party endorsement process is tentatively set to begin on February 7, the same day as the presidential caucus. Thus, Bachmann could bomb out in the first four contests–Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina–and drop out of the race and run for Congress. But she could still be hanging around and have to decide whether to stay in the presidential race or drop out and seek the party endorsement for Congress.
I’ve long been of the view that Bachmann will be a force in the primary. I don’t think she can win it, but I think she’s a far more plausible candidate than, say, Jon Huntsman or Rick Santorum, and probably more than her fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty. She may be crazy, but her craziness is on the same crazy frequency of a significant chunk of the GOP primary electorate, especially the fundie cadres that are heavily represented in her native state of Iowa and the early state of South Carolina.
So, Bachmann may not be out of the presidential race in February. But she also can’t look at returning to Congress as a foregone conclusion. First, we don’t know the map in Minnesota, and with a divide between the Republican legislature and Democratic governor Mark Dayton, it may take a while to hash out and Republicans won’t be able to dictate the terms.
More importantly, though, is that Michele Bachmann isn’t likely to win reelection, regardless of what the districts look like.
In 2006 Bachmann beat Democrat Patty Wetterling, who was generally considered a nice person but a weak candidate. It’s not damning of Wetterling to have lost that year to Bachmann, because few then knew or could be convinced Bachmann was as nuts as we now know her to be. But Wetterling also had the difficulty of trying to win in MN06, the most Republican district in Minnesota.
In 2008 John McCain lost Minnesota by 10 points, yet Bachmann ran 8 points behind McCain’s percentage within her district; in MN06 McCain beat Obama 53-45, but Bachmann only eked out a 46-43 victory over Tinklenberg. Had a third-party candidate not sucked out so much of the vote Bachmann would have lost.
In 2010 Bachmann performed better against the Democrat but not any better against the Republican base. In a terrific year for Republicans, with the advantage of having raised a staggering $13.4 million dollars vs $4 million for her Democratic opponent Clark, Bachmann only managed to get to 52%. Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer lost a narrow race to Democrat Mark Dayton, but he beat Dayton by 18 points in Bachmann’s district. Bachmann beat Clark by only 12 points.
In addition to demonstrating that Bachmann never had a chance of winning a statewide race in Minnesota, these figures show she’s an underpeformer in a heavily Republican district. Since Bachmann’s district added more people than any district in Minnesota, it will have to shed people to other districts. It’s almost certain to be a less Republican district, and with fewer Republican voters in a less Republican year, she’ll probably lose.
For the GOP, Bachmann’s presidential campaign presents several problems. Most catastrophic would be if the unlikely but not impossible happens: she wins the nomination. But it’s also a problem for the GOP in negotiating a Congressional map with Dayton: do they draw a non-Bachmann map that gives them a good chance of holding the same number of Republican seats in the state, or do they leave her a district that probably can’t be as Republican as her current district and run the risk that she’ll lose it to a Democrat, especially if she’s spending little of her time in MN in search of the presidential nomination? And will she wait too long to compete for the GOP endorsement and then have to force a primary to secure herself a place on the November ballot?
Michele Bachmann is one of the crazier politicians in America. For Republicans trying to protect their Congressional majority, her presidential campaign has probably made them a little crazier as well.