Pawlenty and Bachmann: Minnesota’s Dick and Jane

Here is a curious liberal’s analysis of Minnesota’s potential GOP presidential candidates.

Ian J Byrne

It seems that MinnesotaâÄôs motto is “the more the merrier” when it comes to GOP presidential candidate nominee hopefuls. Stirring the pot, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty published a book this January, “Courage to Stand,” (complete with a national book tour) and formed a presidential exploratory committee at the end of March. Rep. Michele Bachmann has been making regular trips to Iowa and raised more than $2.2 million in the first quarter of 2011 through her congressional campaign and political action committee.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, with a hypothetical nine-candidate ballot, named Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee as the top three candidates for the nomination. Both Minnesotans finished near the bottom with Pawlenty receiving 6 percent and Bachmann 5 percent.

In a field thatâÄôs shaping up to potentially include a few former governors, a real estate mogul, members of the GOP old guard and Sarah Palin âÄî who deserves her own category âÄî the question beckons: How can Pawlenty or Bachmann establish viable candidacies for the GOP nomination?

Pawlenty has established himself as a fiscal conservative and a champion of the “cut your way out of debt” budget strategy. While his social views are what I would consider mainstream Republican, he has not let social issues define him as a candidate.

Bachmann is the ideological counterweight âÄî and a vocal one at that âÄî to everything Democrat. She rails against government spending, gay marriage and environmental regulation. She is the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, and the media has labeled her a “Tea Party Darling.”

Only 40 percent of likely Republican voters know who Pawlenty is, according to a March 29 Gallup poll. Compare that to the 97 percent Palin commands. Bachmann edges out Pawlenty with 54 percent. Granted, Pawlenty is not a former GOP vice-presidential nominee and doesnâÄôt have a reality television show. If he did, however, I imagine it would lean closer to “This Old House” than “Swamp People.”

Pawlenty does have an issue with catching the publicâÄôs eye, though. The Economist magazine cited one of PawlentyâÄôs cons as having no charisma. IâÄôve seen Pawlenty speak and I can attest that heâÄôs got a sense of humor and is quite personable. I donâÄôt believe he deserves the mediaâÄôs drubbing for not being charismatic. I respect Pawlenty for presenting himself as a serious candidate and not squawking about nothing, as Trump has of late. However, the fact that Trump came in second in that recent poll says something about what voters want.

Pawlenty will also have to distinguish himself from Romney and former Utah governor and outgoing Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to attract moderate voters. HuntsmanâÄôs presence will galvanize Pawlenty and Romney to duke it out over who has more foreign policy experience. The Economist cited PawlentyâÄôs lack of baggage as a pro. Romney will have to explain his healthcare program in Massachusetts. Huntsman was President Barack ObamaâÄôs top diplomat to China.

Bachmann needs to escape Fox News-land if she wants to be taken seriously by people other than the roughly 160,000 who voted for her in MinnesotaâÄôs 6th District or the Tea Party. Her media strategy is to put herself in situations where she has full control. Even when in control, however, Bachmann has a propensity to make gaffes. She recently declared that Lexington, N.H., was “where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” On NBCâÄôs Meet the Press, she said the Affordable Care Act hides $105 billion in spending, which in fact is not hidden at all. Escaping the conservative media bubble and displaying a bit of discipline in her speech may prove to be a tough task, but she has to do it.

Bachmann must showcase her legislative accomplishments. The bridge over the St. Croix River and the light bulb bill are a start, but what legislation has she proposed or cosponsored that has affected the lives of Americans for the better? She also lacks a House leadership position. Tea Party Caucus chairwomanship isnâÄôt much to write home about.

I predict the GOP will begin purging Tea Party influence due to their increased willingness to challenge the GOP establishment. While Tea Party-supported Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is praised as an up-and-coming House member, his budget bill that cuts $4 trillion over a decade and takes aim at entitlement programs is sure to draw the ire of the electorate.

The bill has met criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. If the GOP wants to get back to its usual agenda of transferring responsibility to the private sector without the hassle of arguing over social issues, the GOP should promote the bill as the “Tea Party budget bill.” If all goes according to plan, the bill will be dissected and condemned and the Tea Party will lose favor with the electorate. Bachmann will be completely marginalized within the GOP if she continues her tight embrace of the Tea Party.

The good news for Pawlenty is that his main goal is to build on his candidacy. His “no baggage” factor will come in handy. Bachmann, on the other hand, has her work cut out for her in terms of appealing to the broader electorate. As a liberal, IâÄôm not sure if having two potential GOP candidates from Minnesota is a curse or a blessing. What I do know is that it will be quite interesting to watch how my fellow Minnesotans fare as the election gets going.


Ian J Byrne welcomes comments at [email protected].