Bachmann's DFL challengers face off Saturday

Rep. Michele Bachmann
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is ramping up her first congressional re-election campaign.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Bachmann is not surprised Democrats are eyeing her job. Two years ago she won an open-seat race, then seen as among the most competitive in the country.

But even though she has the benefits of incumbency now, Bachmann knows she can't coast to re-election.

"This being the first re-election of my being here in Congress, and winning with the majority, but again a slim majority, I think that puts us as a highly targeted race as far as the Democrats are concerned," Bachmann said.

Elwyn Tinklenberg
Elwyn Tinklenberg is a DFLer running for Congress in the 6th District.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

But Bachmann said she is "cautiously optimistic." She has already raised more than $1 million -- 10 times what either of her potential DFL challengers have. And because she is seen as potentially vulnerable, she will also get national help from the Republican Party.

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Bachmann also says her conservative track record resonates in the 6th District, which includes St. Cloud and the suburbs to the north and east of the Twin Cities.

"I've been trying to continue to fight against wasteful spending here in Washington, exponential growth of spending, and also to reduce people's taxes in Minnesota," Bachmann said.

On Saturday, DFLers will endorse a candidate to go up against Bachmann. There are two contenders: Elwyn Tinklenberg and Bob Olson.

Tinklenberg tried to get the endorsement two years ago, but lost to well-known children's advocate Patty Wetterling. Wetterling then lost to Bachmann in the general election.

Tinklenberg said he has a good shot now because of Bachmann's support for the Iraq war, her votes against expanding a children's health insurance program and federal funding for the new 35W bridge.

Senate candidate Bob Olson
Bank owner and tax lawyer Bob Olson is seeking the DFL endorsement Saturday to run against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
MPR File Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"This is a different race, a different time," Tinklenberg said. "Rep. Bachmann now has a record, and it's a terrible record -- a record that's out of step with the district -- and I think that makes this a new opportunity for Democrats."

Last time Tinklenberg dropped out after failing to get the endorsement. This time he says he "intends" to do the same thing -- drop out if delegates endorse his rival -- but he leaves himself a little wiggle room.

"As long as the endorsement process is fair and above boards and honest, then yes, I would abide by the endorsement," Tinklenberg said.

Tinklenberg complains Olson is making the race personal, accusing him of engaging in lobbying with the transportation consulting firm he runs. Tinklenberg said he is not a lobbyist, and that such charges are a distraction for delegates.

Moreover, he said his long record of public service makes him the best candidate.

"I have run in campaigns," Tinklenberg said. "I have won campaigns."

Tinklenberg spent a decade as the mayor of Blaine. He also served as state transportation commissioner during the Ventura administration. When it comes to the issues, Tinklenberg said he and Olson are pretty similar.

"I don't think there are significant policy differences," Tinklenberg said.

"I guess I would disagree," Olson countered in a separate interview.

Olson said he does not have the same politics as Tinklenberg.

"I'm what is called a progressive Democrat."

Olson wholeheartedly supports abortion rights. Tinklenberg calls himself "pro-life," although he promises not to support any measures that would undermine Roe v. Wade.

Bob Olson has been involved in DFL politics for decades, but he has only run for office once before. He took on Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad back in 1994 and lost.

Olson owns a bank in St. Cloud. He has a tax law practice, and he founded a nonprofit organization devoted to alternative energy.

Olson said Tinklenberg shouldn't brag about experience.

"His lack of experience in areas such as finance, taxation, sustainable energy, jobs, health insurance, shouldn't be held against him too much," said Olson. "I think if you're looking for sand and gravel experts and transportation, highway, bridge experts, Elwyn's going to beat me out on that one."

Olson claims he has talked to about two-thirds of the DFL delegates who will decide the endorsement, and Olson said according to his count, he's in the lead.

But Tinklenberg's campaign said Olson is trailing badly, not leading. Tinklenberg spokesman John Wodele predicts his candidate will win endorsement on either the first or second ballot.

Olson has pledged, without reservations, to drop out if Tinklenberg is endorsed.