More than 1,000 people rallied Friday night at a Minneapolis town hall meeting hosted by Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. and Ron Paul, R-Texas.
The two very different Republican members of Congress don't usually share the spotlight, but they do share a strong disdain for what they see as excessive government spending.
Organizers billed the town hall, held at the University of Minnesota's Northrop Auditorium, as a discussion on monetary reform, limited government and free market economics, all mainstays of Ron Paul's Libertarian-leaning platform. But it was clear many in the audience also had health care reform on their minds.
Outside the auditorium, Bachmann and Paul supporters handed out buttons and campaign literature. Some of the buttons said "Hands off my Healthcare."
Across the plaza, a street theatre troupe called Billionaires for Wealthcare drank champagne in mock support of Bachmann's opposition to a public insurance option being considered by Congress.
"Michele, our good friend Michele Bachmann. She has worked so hard to keep us rich, yes, she has done her part and we really appreciate all these people that she has behind her that are helping us to keep our billions of dollars in the health care industry," they said satirically.
The demonstrators say they'd like to see a public option included in any health care reform proposal passed by Congress.
But others had a different view. Holding an anti-Obama sign, Candace Oathout from Crystal says she came to the town hall to show her dissatisfaction with what she sees as an increase in "socialism" in America. She's against any government health care reform.
"I feel very strongly that we have a tremendous amount of corruption on both sides of the aisle in our government, and unless good people with strong principles stand up and say enough and begin to take that power back I fear for our nation," she says. "It's not a world that I want my grandkids to grow up in."
Despite the many health care protest signs in the audience, both Bachmann and Paul avoided the topic of health care during their speeches. And they didn't discuss their political differences. Instead, Bachmann stressed what they have in common.
"Do you remember last year's $700 billion dollar bailout? Well, that is how Ron Paul and I got really acquainted. We voted no on every bailout, on every stimulus, on every scheme that came before the congress and it was a privilege to vote no"
Bachmann says she's been attending Paul's regular fiscal policy meetings and has worked to align herself with his views on monetary reform.
But the two congressmembers remain far apart on other issues, including foreign policy. Paul advocates a non-interventionist foreign policy.
The Texas Congressman took the stage to enormous applause and then talked for almost an hour about free market principles. He urged his supporters to organize, saying the voice of the conservative movement needs to be heard.
"And yet we are losing the argument. Conservatives and Libertarians do not give a good case and say that if you truly care about your fellow man what you ought to do is promote liberty and limited government and more people will be taken care of better than any other way," he says.
Afterwards, College Republican Chair Abdul-Rahman Magba-Kamara was satisfied with the event, although he acknowledged that Paul and Bachmann have little in common.
"I think it's just important thing that they have a large group of people who want to have our liberty stood up for and Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann are perfect examples of people that can do that for us."
Some political analysts say we could see more strange political bedfellows as the National Republican Party struggles to define itself heading into the next election cycle.
The local chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a national libertarian group that hosted the event, refused to publicize Bachmann's appearance.
"We don't feel that we can promote her in good faith because she represents none of the libertarian principles that we joined this group for," said Jennifer Schreiter, the chapter's vice president.
Chris Huxtable, the chapter's president, said he was surprised by the pairing. "It is a weird combination," he said. "And a lot of people don't really appreciate that she's going to be there because they think that she's crazy, or they just call her a lot of different names."
Huxtable said he hopes that Paul can move Bachmann toward a more libertarian ideology.
"If Michele can agree that the government has out of control spending, then maybe Ron can help her to understand that a large part of our funding is going to an overseas empire that is having bases in every country and wars waging in countries," Huxtable said. "So, maybe small steps in the right direction might be able to help her understand things like that."
Bachmann has received national media attention for her denunciation of ACORN, and for her criticism of AmeriCorps and the U.S. Census.
Last week, she expressed alarm about government's involvement in managing the nation's food supply. "Now will the White House decide how many calories we consume, or what types of food we consume?" she said during a speech on the House floor.
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