Inside a crowded office suite in Woodbury, campaign volunteers for Michele Bachmann spent a recent Saturday working the phones and stuffing envelopes.
Similar efforts are underway at three other offices in the 6th Congressional District, which snakes around the Twin Cities from Afton in the southeast, across the northern suburbs, ending west of St. Cloud. Bachmann said she's been working too, talking to constituents and making the case for re-election.
"And I don't take this race lightly," she said. "I never have. I think that this will be a very tough election. And I take nothing for granted until the last vote is counted on Nov. 4."
Bachmann said she's earned a second term by standing up against tax increases and trying to reign in federal spending. She said getting three bills passed as a first-term member of the minority party was her biggest accomplishment.
And her biggest mistake? Bachmann points to that well-documented embrace of President Bush after his 2007 State of the Union Address.
Bachmann recently distanced herself from the president, and increased her national profile, by voting twice against the bailout for the financial industry. She said her constituents overwhelmingly opposed the bailout.
"This is not free money," she said. "There isn't a hidden vault somewhere that Congress goes to to get this money. And at the end of the day, someone has to pay for all of this extraordinary out of control spending. Right now, we're up to about $2 trillion in extra spending above and beyond the level of the federal government. Somebody has to pay that bill."
Bachmann defeated Democrat Patty Wetterling two years ago by 24,000 votes. That was also about the number of votes Independence Party candidate John Binkowski received in 2006.
This year, Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg won the DFL and IP party endorsements, which he hopes will give him the combined numbers needed to beat Bachmann.
Tinklenberg served as state transportation commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura. He's also a former mayor of Blaine and a former Methodist minister.
Tinklenberg said he wants to end what he sees as Bachmann's politics of polarization and divisiveness.
"She's not looking for compromise," he said. "She's not looking for bipartisan work. She is first and foremost committed to a partisan and ideological approach to government."
Tinklenberg disagrees with Bachmann on nearly every issue, from energy policy to Iraq to budget earmarks. He also said he would have voted for the second version of the bailout bill.
But voters are getting just three chances to compare those differences side-by-side. Tinklenberg said he's disappointed that Bachmann wouldn't agree to more debates.
"This is an important part of the process, for both of us to appear in a number of different places with groups of folks from around the district, where people can come in and hear us respond to questions," he said. "We'll continue to campaign, so it's not such a big deal for us. But I think it shortchanges people of the district in some pretty unfortunate ways."
Tinklenberg said he's convinced he can win in the Republican-favoring 6th district, because Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar won there in 2006. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced this week that it will provide some financial support. Tinklenberg trails Bachmann in the money race and has not yet run any TV ads.
Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, said the cash difference might hurt Tinklenberg in the final weeks of the campaign. Still, Pearson said outside forces should make it a close contest.
"Because of a strong national tide that is helping Democrats in House races across the country, and because of the extreme anxiety that voters are feeling over the economy, I think this does give Tinklenberg an opening," she said. "He is a candidate with experience that he can campaign on. The question is, can he reach enough voters in the next three weeks? I think it's Bachmann's to lose, but Tinklenberg has a shot."
The Independence Party's cross-endorsement of Tinklenberg wasn't enough to keep another independent off the ballot.
Bob Anderson, a dental technician from Woodbury, is the unendorsed IP candidate running this year in the 6th district. Anderson is running a bare-bones, self-financed campaign. During a recent candidate forum in Stillwater, Anderson said he thinks there's already too much money in politics.
"Everybody talks about change, but what is change? If you want to try something different, put somebody in there that's not tied to all this money and special interests, so they can go in there and represent their constituents free from any financial influence," he said. "That's how you represent."
Anderson shared the stage with Bachmann and Tinklenberg in Stillwater, but it appears he won't get that opportunity again. The St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce did not include Anderson in its event. He was also excluded from a Minnesota Public Radio Midday broadcast scheduled for Oct. 30.