An Important Race Shapes Up

One of the key House races in November will take place in Minnesota’s 6th District, for the seat now held by Mark Kennedy, who is leaving the House to run for the Senate. Minnesota’s 6th is on just about every list of districts the Democrats need to win to take control of the House. Yesterday, as expected, state Senator Michele Bachmann won the Republican endorsement at the party’s district convention.

The newspapers hate Michele because she first became known as a social conservative. This coverage from the Minneapolis Star Tribune is typical:

Bachmann’s smashing win is a testament to the power of social conservatism in Republican circles and of the Stillwater senator’s ability to draw first-timers into party politics, many of them from fundamentalist Christian churches.

She is best known for high-profile efforts on social issues important to the religious right. She broke into state politics by leading the successful effort to abolish the Profile of Learning, a set of public school standards that conservatives viewed as promoting secular humanism.

Bachmann is spearheading the effort to get a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Typical of Bachmann’s delegates were Jon and Julie Larson, who attend Living Word Christian Church in Brooklyn Park. They home-school their children, believe in the literal truth of the Bible and reached what Jon called their “awakening” about seven years ago.

You get the drift. In reality, while Michele is certainly a social conservative, she is also very smart–she is a tax lawyer by profession–and is also attractive, hard-working and supremely well-organized. No one knows the mechanics of the campaign process better.

The Democrats will most likely nominate Patty Wetterling for the 6th District seat. Wetterling ran and lost against Mark Kennedy in 2004. She became famous quite a few years ago when her young son was kidnapped and murdered. Since then, she has been intermittently in the public spotlight in connection with children’s safety issues. Her main virtue is name recognition. When she ran in 2004, she considered it dirty pool if anyone asked her positions on issues. Reporters agreed. This year, she started out running for the Senate seat being vacated by Mark Dayton. That seemed like a stretch for someone who has never held any public office, and many people speculated that she intended to raise money for a putative Senate campaign, then switch to the House contest. Wetterling vowed that she would not enter the House race. But then, sure enough, having raised a considerable amount of money for a Senate campaign, she dropped out of that race and sought the House endorsement instead. To many voters in the 6th, she is looking more and more like just another pol desperate to find a way to Washington.

The Democrats detest Michele Bachmann, partly because they have never beaten her. She will out-work and out-organize any opponent. The 6th is a Republican district, and if Michele runs as a traditional Republican, emphasizing her conservative stands on the issues that national Republicans have fumbled over the last couple of years–spending and immigration–I expect her to crush Patty Wetterling (or possibly Elwyn Tinklenberg, a former Mayor) in November.

The 6th District race exemplifies the task that confronts the Democrats: they are doing well in the polls, but that means nothing unless specific Democratic candidates perform well in specific races. Whether the Democrats can translate voter dissatisfaction with the Republicans’ national leadership into victories in the key campaigns very much remains to be seen.

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