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God not choosing sides in 6th, Bachmann says

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Patty Wetterling and Michele Bachmann
Although it was a three-person debate, most of the dialogue involved exchanges between DFLer Patty Wetterling, left, and Republican Michele Bachmann, right.
MPR Photo/Chris Dall

sSixth District candidate Michele Bachmann said Wednesday night that she doesn't believe God has chosen sides in her election battle. Bachmann made the comments during tough questioning at a free-for-all forum in Andover. At a church service last month in Brooklyn Park, Bachmann said, "God called me to run for the United States Congress."

"Does that mean God wants you to win?"  forum host Kerri Miller of  Minnesota Public Radio asked Wednesday night.

"No," Bachmann replied. "God calls us to duty... but the results are his."

The issue of religion and politics has simmered throughout the 6th District race between Bachmann, DFLer Patty Wetterling, and Independence Party candidate John Binkowski, but both declined to enter the controversy Wednesday night.

"I respect people of all different religious calling and belief. It's a very private, very deep belief in what motivates each of us," Wetterling said.

"Nobody jumps into a race like this for no reason," Binkowski added. "Whether it's God, gut, or heart calling you, something has to call you to do it."

The tepid exchange served as warm-up for the most heated part of the evening  during a discussion of  the role "negative advertising."  Miller tried to pin the candidates on whether they believe the  advertising they or their surrogates are running against their opponents, playing examples of advertisements both Wetterling and Bachmann have run this campaign season.

"Who would vote against a bill that would put repeat sex offenders behind bars for life?" one Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad asks. "Michele Bachmann.  Against a bill that makes operating meth labs close to children a crime? Michele Bachmann.  Against a bill letting police alert parents when dangerous out-of-state sex offenders move to their neighborhood? Michele Bachmann."

"Do you endorse what that ad says?" Miller asked Wetterling.

"I believe we should stand on who we are and what we believe," Wetterling responded. "Michele Bachmann voted the straight party line and against the laws that protect our children. Some things in life transcend party politics and she voted the straight party line."

"But do you believe  that she doesn't want parents to know when sex offenders move into the neighborhood?" Miller asked, noting that negative ads often distort the truth.

"I think she puts partisan politics ahead of that belief," said Wetterling.

"But do you believe that's what she believes?" Miller persisted.

"No, I don't believe that," Wetterling said.

Bachmann said the bill highlighted in the ad was a Democratic bill in the Minnesota Senate  that was weaker than a Republican version, and said GOP amendments to the bill were "tougher" on sex offenders and on meth labs. "I voted for a measure that would be tougher," she said.

"That's not true," Wetterling  injected.

"I was there on the floor," Bachmann said. "I read the bill."

That brought a response from Binkowski, who struggled most of the evening to get his views into the forum.  "If they (Bachmann and Wetterling) can't come up with ads that are truthful,   it has a damaging effect on the dialogue here. It doesn't have to be done with disingenuous commercials and that's what we have to stop at the ballot box."

Bachmann was to get her turn defending a similar "attack ad."

"Patty Wetterling just doesn't seem to understand. She's wrong on illegal immigration," a new Bachmann ad says. "With 12 million illegal aliens already here, Wetterling said immigration is not an urgent crisis. And Wetterling is wrong on taxes. With our families benefitting from tax cuts,  Wetterling won't say if she would make your tax cuts permanent."

"It's  unfortunate that so much about what people know about candidates comes down to 30-second sound bites," Bachmann said Wednesday night. 

"Seven weeks out the Republicans started their attack ads on me," Wetterling said, noting one that said she wanted to "negotiate with terrorists."

"Give me a break," Wetterling said.

"You said it in two debates we had," Bachmann insisted. "Having a sit-down with Osama bin Laden is not going to solve the problem, I'm sorry."

The candidates also showed clear differences on immigration. Binkowski said he favors a "virtual fence" employing sensors, with better border personnel. "We can sit at the fence and fire bullets or hit with sticks the ones that try to come across, but they're still going to come across, and we're fooling ourselves if we think it's going to solve the problem," he said.

"I'd vote 'no' on the fence," Wetterling said, when asked how she would have voted on legislation to build a 700-mile barrier along the border with Mexico. "We need to go after employers who are bringing those employees here illegally. Fine them, jail them, stop them!"

"We have to secure the borders," Bachmann said. "It's a vein-popping issue in the 6th District.  We have the right as Americans to say who comes into our country and who doesn't." She rejected jailing employers, saying most documents given to employers are forged.

Although the war in Iraq has dominated much of the mid-term elections, it  occupied little of Wednesday night's forum. Wetterling said she wouldn't vote to withhold funding  for the war if she were elected to Congress. "We need to protect our men and women serving the country and we can't withhold equipment and resources they need," she said.

But Binkowski said President Bush should "go before the United Nations, admit mistakes, and challenge the body to create a real coalition for the security of Iraq."

Wednesday night's debate was the final face-off between the three candidates before Tuesday's election.  According to the most recent poll, Bachmann has a significant edge in the Republican-leaning district. On Wednesday, Reuters released a poll showing Bachmann leading 52 percent to Wetterling's 42 percent; a 5-percent increase from a similar poll last month. 

But a poll taken over many of the same days by RT Strategies showed a 1-percent Bachmann edge, just a few days after a  KSTP poll showed a 6-percent Bachmann bulge. A poll by the Star Tribune almost a month ago indicated Wetterling had an 8 percent edge over Bachmann.

The congressional seat opened with the decision by incumbent Rep. Mark Kennedy's bid for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Mark Dayton.