Now that U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has her eyes set on the White House, Minnesota's Republican Party leaders are watching the race closely -- and pondering the future of Bachmann's congressional seat.
Bachmann has stepped up her national campaign appearances in recent weeks, visiting key primary and caucus states in a bid to secure the Republican nomination for president. In speeches, she expresses confidence about her White House bid, telling Republicans at the recent Ames Straw Poll for example that "it is going to happen."
But Bachmann has said little about what she'll do if she does not win the nomination. When she announced her presidential run in June, Bachmann said she was suspending her congressional campaign. That left open the possibility that she could resume it.
Bachmann's campaign spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether she will run for Congress again.
David Fitzsimmons, chairman of the 6th District's Republican Party, said Bachmann's run for the White House left some people wondering whether the district will see a race for an open seat.
"It makes it a little more difficult than it usually is," he said. "Usually we just have to sit back and have Congresswoman Bachmann do her magic and she wins reelection."
Fitzsimmons, who is volunteering for Bachmann's presidential campaign, has encouraged Bachmann to run for re-election if she doesn't win the GOP nomination. He believes Bachmann would consider another run for Congress.
"I hope things work out and I hope she's our next president," he said. "But if that isn't in the cards, my consolation is to keep her as my congresswoman."
Should Bachmann not seek congressional office, Fitzsimmons said several candidates have approached him about running, but he declined to name them.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton doesn't expect any Republicans to enter the race until Bachmann makes up her mind. He said there could be uncertainty until the Republican nomination is decided in February or March.
"We're not holding the seat open; she's holding the seat open," Sutton said. "I don't think anyone is going to run for the 6th District congress before the nomination is decided. I think that will be bad form and I think most of the potential candidates would feel the same way, so we're just waiting to see what happens."
Sutton said candidates would have enough time to mount a campaign before Republicans meet in April to endorse candidates for Congress, if Bachmann wins the nomination or declines to make another run.
But there are drawbacks. Lesser-known candidates have to spend a lot of time raising money and making contacts. A delay could impede those activities.
Sutton said several Republicans in the district could mount a serious campaign. They include former Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer of Delano, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo, Senate President Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville and House Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood.
Dean is keeping his options open but isn't willing to make a commitment.
"I'm not ruling anything out, but right now we're focused on our House members and getting our agenda together for January," he said.
Dean is not sure his home will be in the 6th District next year, when the district will be smaller after redistricting occurs. Because the 6th District must shed 95,000 people, some candidates who currently live in the district could live in another district after the lines are redrawn.
While Republicans wait for Bachmann to make up her mind, Democrats say the congresswoman should have decided earlier.
"It's frankly unfair what she's doing by keeping both feet in both camps at this point," state DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said. "If she's serious about the presidency, she should end her campaign for Congress and allow the Republican Party to find a candidate and allow the Democratic Party to find a candidate."
Republicans argue that Martin should focus more on finding a Democrat to run in the district. So far, no Democratic candidate has announced.