Minn.'s Bachmann, Tinklenberg in tight race

Michele Bachmann and challenger El Tinklenberg
DFL candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg (right) is challenging the 6th Congressional District seat of incumbent candidate, Republican Michele Bachmann.
MPR Photo

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann juggled official business and her re-election campaign in St. Cloud on Saturday, while Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg rallied student volunteers across town before heading out to knock on doors.

The race in Minnesota's conservative 6th District is considered a tossup after Bachmann raised questions about Barack Obama's views on America on national TV two weeks ago.

Tinklenberg has pulled in nearly $2 million since Bachmann's comments on MSNBC's "Hardball," while an Associated Press analysis of independent expenditures shows that national Democrats have poured $1 million into the race on his side.

Bachmann allies have spent only $42,000.

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Bachmann wasn't talking about money - or even the election - as she welcomed U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake to the St. Cloud VA Medical Center for a visit organized by her congressional office.

Bachmann and Peake toured a mental health area and poked their heads into examination rooms in a surgery center before speaking to reporters, but Bachmann wouldn't take campaign questions.

"We're here on an official visit," she said.

Peake said he has been visiting VA facilities around the country since becoming secretary late last year. Bachmann said the tour was set up by her office in September around Peake's schedule.

Democrats weren't buying it. Several veterans spoke to reporters outside the facility, where DFL Veterans Caucus Chairman Jim Bootz called on Bachmann's campaign to pay Peake's travel costs.

"Obviously this is grandstanding, to use these facilities and veteran patients as background for political campaign, as a stage for it," said Jolene Simmons, 56, a Vietnam veteran who backs Tinklenberg and Obama. "That just shouldn't be done."

Tinklenberg also questioned the visit's timing.

"Not three days before an election," he said. "There is no possible way to define that as a non-political event."

VA spokeswoman Joan Vincent said the visit was non-political and in accordance with federal law. She even asked the veterans to remove political buttons while they were on VA grounds.

Tinklenberg has nearly tripled his campaign funds since Bachmann's comments on Obama, to $2.8 million. Campaign finance reports show Bachmann with more than $2.5 million.

National Democrats and the Service Employees International Union have sunk $544,000 into attacking Bachmann and $578,000 promoting Tinklenberg. Much of the cash paid for TV ads.

Groups including the Club for Growth, National Rifle Association and abortion opponents have spent $42,000 promoting Bachmann, mostly through direct mail and radio ads.

But Bachmann's supporters aren't wavering on their candidate. The first-term member of Congress and her husband stopped by a GOP calling center in St. Cloud to thank about a dozen volunteers and pose for pictures.

"We've got to keep you there," said Mary Kiess, 72, of St. Cloud.

"It's so personal. When you make these personal calls, it really makes a difference," Bachmann said.

Across town, Tinklenberg dropped in on a DFL field office to talk with local candidates and urged several dozen volunteers at a union hall to keep working.

"Let's go do some doorknocking," he said.

Jake Lantry, 21, a senior at St. John's University, said he expects big voter turnout on college campuses to help Tinklenberg, a former state transportation commissioner, Blaine mayor and Methodist minister.

"I'm really impressed with him personally, and his resume is beyond impressive," Lantry said.

Tinklenberg planned media interviews in Blaine later Saturday, before appearing on WCCO-TV and campaigning in Stillwater, Oak Park Heights and Blaine on Sunday.

Bachmann said she would make unscheduled stops in Anoka and Washington counties later Saturday, but wouldn't say exactly where. She had no scheduled events on Sunday.