With Reed out, focus in Clark/Bachmann race shifts to records, fundraising


Dr. Maureen Reed’s decision to drop out of the DFL primary comes as positive news for the campaign of state Sen. Tarryl Clark campaign, as it will allow her to focus solely challenging Bachmann, especially in light of Bachmann’s current fundraising advantage. The campaign in the 6th is currently the fourth most expensive House race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

The DFL-endorsed candidate, Clark is supported by prominent Democratic politicians, so she was likely to win the primary even if Reed had not dropped out. But Reed’s withdrawal comes as Bachmann faces increasing criticism over her legislative record. AOL News recently reported that only two of Bachmann’s 17 congressional staffers were legislative aides, compared to three working on media relations. She has only introduced 18 pieces of legislation since January 2009, with only one successfully passing.

That news follows a recent Bachmann profile in The Washington Post, which included this telling comment:

Her only notable legislative triumph came in the adoption of a low-profile bill that has made technical changes to the obligations of merchants who deal with credit card and debit receipts. But Bachmann emphasizes that to focus on the passage of bills is to miss the whole point about her: She is in Washington, she says, to beat back government’s attempt to “eclipse freedom in people’s lives.”

Her attention on raising her media profile may not have won legislative victories, but it has bolstered Bachmann’s fundraising. In their last reports submitted to the FEC, Bachmann had raised $2.3 million with $1.5 million cash on hand, compared to $1.1 million for Clark, with only $600,000 cash left.

What is striking about those numbers is the source for each candidates’ donations*. Through March 31, Bachmann had 1,513 individual contributions from large donors (contributors of $200 and above), with over 55 percent of those coming from non-Minnesotans. Clark on the other hand had 742 large-donor contributions, but 80 percent came from within state. Even though Bachmann had almost twice as many total large, individual donations, Clark only had about 50 fewer of such contributions from Minnesotans.

With the DFL nomination sealed up, Clark should expect to begin receiving greater financial support from national Democrats. And her success at raising money from Minnesotans may be a sign that voters have become tired of Bachmann’s emphasis on out-of-state matters.

But while Bachmann’s lack of a legislative record opens her to criticism, Clark’s extensive record during her time as assistant majority leader in the Minnesota Senate provides plenty of ammunition for her opponent. This spring’s rough-and-tumble budget battle often put Clark in difficult positions, at one point serving as the tie-breaking vote on a measure to raise taxes. And though Bachmann’s political reputation is one of a far-right firebrand, the fact remains that she does represent Minnesota’s most conservative district, one that voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008 53-45 percent.

Minnesota’s history of supporting third-party candidates could also shake up November’s election. Bob Anderson is the endorsed candidate for the Independence Party. Anderson ran as in independent in 2008 (the Independence Party cross-nominated the DFL candidate that year), and was able to draw 10 percent of the vote. With the official backing of Minnesota’s main third party, Anderson could see his share of the vote increase this election.

It’s unclear whether Anderson’s campaign poses more of a problem for Bachmann or Clark. Anderson’s center-right views would indicate that his supporters have more in common with Bachmann’s base. But he may end up siphoning off the “anyone but Bachmann” voters who would otherwise go for Clark.

(St. John’s University professor Aubrey Immelman, who ran as a Republican against Bachmann in the 2008 primary, is also running for the seat.)

With the amount of cash being pumped into the campaign for the 6th, as well as Bachmann’s prominence in the world of Fox News and conservative conventions, the race should receive continued national focus as November nears.

*This post originally omitted a distinction of the Federal Election Commission figures. The FEC statistics cited track donations larger than $200, not every individual campaign contribution. The language has been changed in the post to reflect that differentiation.