Sizing up the competition in the 6th Congressional District

Tinklenberg announces
DFLer Elwyn Tinklenberg, former state transportation commissioner, says he is running again for the 6th Congressional District seat, which is now held by Republican Michele Bachmann.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Elwyn Tinklenberg dropped out of the 6th District contest last year when child safety advocate Patty Wetterling won the DFL endorsement. Wetterling then lost the race for the open seat to Republican Michele Bachmann.

Tinklenberg says he's seeking the party endorsement again, but he hasn't ruled out running in a primary.

Earlier this year, Tinklenberg said he wouldn't be a candidate at all. But he says he changed his mind after the 35W bridge collapsed.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican, represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"The public is ready for leadership that is experienced, that is competent, that is capable," said Tinklenberg. "We have seen in the conduct of the Iraq war, and in Katrina, and in the bridge failure the result of leadership that doesn't reflect those kind of qualities. And the public is tired of it."

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Tinklenberg served as state transportation commissioner under former Gov. Jesse Ventura. He's also the former mayor of Blaine and a former Methodist minister.

Tinklenberg views Bachmann as vulnerable, because he says she doesn't have his kind of experience working across party lines.

"And I think that it's hard for her to do that, because her career has been built around divisive issues and a very partisan approach. And I think that makes it hard to build those kind of partnerships," said Tinklenberg.

"The public is ready for leadership that is experienced, that is competent, that is capable."

Bachmann, who has not officially announced whether she's running for reelection, was not available for comment. But in a written statement, her campaign spokesman said the Bachmann was working hard to keep the country safe and also fighting for Minnesota values.

Mark Drake, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Minnesota, said Bachmann is well positioned to win re-election because he sees her as a good fit for the conservative district.

"She's a great advocate for the district in terms of taxes, national security, immigration. Down the line, I think she fits the district real well," said Drake. "I think Tinklenberg is going to have to pander to his left-wing base to try to get their support. And I think people are going to see that and they aren't going to like Tinklenberg's far-left positions."

The Cook Political Report, an independent, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes congressional elections and campaigns, also shows Bachmann in a good spot. As of last week, the newsletter listed Minnesota's 6th District as likely Republican and not considered competitive at this point.

Tinklenberg is now the third Democrat running in the 6th. He joins Bob Hill, a lawyer from Stillwater, and Bob Olson, a lawyer who also owns a bank in Stearns County.

Kay Wolsborn, a political science professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, says Tinklenberg has the name recognition that makes him the immediate DFL front runner.

"He was active in competing with Patty Wetterling for the Democratic nomination last time. And so a lot of DFLers are likely to be very familiar with the name, as well as the community," said Wolsborn. "So, I think he does move, just by virtue of that, to the head of the pack."

Wolsborn says almost any incumbent has an advantage over their challengers. She says Bachmann has received a lot of press coverage this year, including media reports on her trip to Iraq. But Wolsborn says she doesn't think Bachmann has a lock on re-election.

"Michele Bachmann now has a record to be challenged on and to run on," said Wolsborn. "So it's both to her advantage -- it clearly demonstrates her commitment to her values. But it also represents a target for any kind of competition she would face in the District 6 race."

Wolsborn says the race could take on a new wrinkle with the addition of a third party candidate. Last year, John Binkowski won about 8 percent of the vote on the Independence Party ticket. IP officials say they do not yet have an announced candidate for 2008.