Thousands stream in to Palin rally

Bachmann-Palin rally
Hundreds of people wait to for the doors to open at the Minneapolis Convention Center for an appearance by Sarah Palin in a pre-election rally for Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Wednesday April 7, 2010 in Minneapolis.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Several thousand people began streaming in to the Minneapolis Convention Center today to attend a rally featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to benefit U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and the Minnesota Republican Party.

The Republican Party of Minnesota is sponsoring the rally. Attendees were supposed to agree to volunteer for the GOP between now and this fall's elections in exchange for their tickets.

Steve Beck drove two hours from Browerville to be at the rally. He said he got tickets without agreeing to volunteer. Beck supports the tea party movement. He says he and his friends didn't like all the Republican signs at the rally.

"We were disappointed that they have so much Republican stuff here," Beck said. "I wish the Republicans would let the tea party support them if that's who they want to support."

The rally was set to begin at 2 p.m. this afternoon. Following the convention center event, Palin and Bachmann were to head to a downtown Minneapolis hotel for a fundraiser that some supporters were set to pay as much as $10,000 to attend.

Palin will also headline a fundraiser in the evening for 6th District Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.

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Bachmann and Palin share reputations as conservative critics of the federal government. And, like Palin, there's little room for middle ground when it comes to assessing Bachmann.

A majority of voters in the small town of St. Michael northwest of the Twin Cities supported Bachmann in 2008.

But even at the local grocery store it quickly becomes clear that, just like everywhere else around the country, people either really like Bachmann, or despise her.

"I hate her. Period," said Butch Rasmuson. "And a simple Simon like that shouldn't be in office."

But most St. Michael voters, including Verena Zachman, disagree.

"I love her and I believe everything she says," Zachman said.

Zachman said just like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann says what she means and doesn't beat around the bush.

"I don't look at her as a politician, because she's so common and ordinary like the rest of us around here," Zachman said.

But unlike the rest of the people in St. Michael, Bachmann is a political celebrity and is one of the most sought after conservatives in the country, said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs.

"It's hard to think of a member of Congress, not in the leadership, who gets more media play than Michele Bachmann," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said Palin and Bachmann share many traits, not the least of which is their ability to connect with angry conservatives.

"They've found words, some of them are carefully selected, that come off as very authentic, as really speaking to the fears, the anxieties, the frustrations of Americans who see the country passing them by, seeing special deals being cut for Wall Street and for big auto and for others, but not for them," he said.

Democrats have been accusing Bachmann of neglecting her Minnesota constituents in favor of national audiences. DFL Party Associate Chair Donna Cassutt said Bachmann and Palin are more interested in grandstanding than solving problems.

"They say extreme things," Cassutt said. "They have to apologize. Their priorities are in the wrong place and they're not representative of mainstream Minnesotans."

Liberal Web sites and commentators frequently accuse Bachmann and Palin of misstating and misrepresenting issues.

But the Republican Party's 6th District chairman, David Fitzsimmons, said Bachmann's authenticity -- even with mistakes -- trumps the measured and careful approach to public speaking most politicians take.

"Any time you have someone who's willing to speak from the heart and willing to speak what they're feeling and what they're thinking at the time, you're going to have those moments where something doesn't come across exactly right," Fitzsimmons said. "But, at the end of the day, I think a lot of people recognize that they'd rather have that than someone that's always on script."

In the fall of 2008, comments Bachmann made on cable TV about then-candidate Barack Obama being anti-American threatened Bachmann's re-election.

Even Republican Party leaders acknowledge that exchange hurt Bachmann with some Republican voters.

GOP presidential candidate John McCain received more votes in the 6th District, and Bachmann won by less than 3 percentage points.

Back at the grocery store in St. Michael, Ron Kohorst said like many others, he too sees similarities between Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.

"And that's not a good thing," he said.

Kohorst said he voted for Bachmann in the last election despite concerns about some of things she was saying. He said he likes Bachmann's politics, but not her style.

"I think a lot of times she doesn't think through what she says. She says some pretty outrageous remarks that make me just question her," he said.

Two DFLers -- Tarryl Clark and Maureen Reed -- are vying to run against Bachmann in the November election.

Kohorst said he's not sure who he will vote for this fall.