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Bachmann, Pawlenty are two sides of the conservative coin

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Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty
In this diptych photo, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, and former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty speak at separate events. The two will be part of a Republican debate in New Hampshire on Monday, June 13, 2011. Pawlenty announced his bid for the GOP nomination for president in late May. Bachmann has yet to formally make an announcement.
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Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann come from different wings of the Republican party, and some Minnesota Republicans say their different styles could help determine how much support they get in their quest for the GOP nomination.

The two Minnesotans will be two of the Republican presidential hopefuls debating in New Hampshire Monday night.

For now, Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton is officially on the sidelines when it comes to whether he's supporting Bachmann or Pawlenty. Sutton predicts both will be strong candidates who will run very different campaigns.  

"Gov. Pawlenty is running a very strong traditional campaign," Sutton said. "Michele Bachmann, I think her candidacy is going to be something that's very grassroots based. I don't know which one is the best approach yet. That's why you run the race."

Pawlenty has been carefully putting together his White House bid for at least the past couple of years. His campaign seems meticulously planned, his moves practically choreographed.  

In contrast, Bachmann burst onto 2012 presidential scene just this year, attaching her outspoken criticism of government spending to the possibility of a White House run.

Sutton said the campaigns reflect the political paths Pawlenty and Bachmann have traveled.

Shaking hands
In a file photo, Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, right, and then Gov. Tim Pawlenty, center, greet morning bus riders at a commuter lot in Blaine, one day before the election. Bachmann is in a close race for re-election against DFLer Elwyn Tinklenberg.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"They came up through the ranks in different ways," he said. "You know, Bachmann was very grassroots ... the way she got elected to the state Senate and the first time she was endorsed — it was very spontaneous. I mean, she shows up in jeans and a sweatshirt and takes out an 18-year Republican incumbent senator and beats him in a primary."

Tim Pawlenty too a different path and was the chair of the College Republicans in college and worked on campaigns. He was a city councilman, then a legislator.

"So they just took different approaches to how they got to this, and that's reflected in their perspective presidential campaigns," he said.

Sutton said he doesn't know whether most Minnesota Republicans tend to favor one candidate over the other right now. Both have a lot of support, and many people he's talking to haven't yet chosen a candidate. 

One who has chosen is Charlie Weaver, the director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.

"Of course, I'm a Pawlenty supporter. I think he's terrific and will be a terrific president," Weaver said.

Weaver is a former Republican state lawmaker and served as Pawlenty's first chief of staff in the governor's office. Ultimately he thinks Pawlenty will prevail over Bachmann.

"Long-term, I don't see it as a problem, but in Iowa, it's going to be more challenging, I think, for the governor to have a fellow Minnesotan in the race," Weaver said. "But they do appeal to different parts of the party — just like Iowa Republicans are different than New Hampshire Republicans."

Traditionally, Republican Iowa caucusgoers tend to focus more on social issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage, and Republican New Hampshire primary voters tend to focus more on economic and foreign policy issues.

Former Republican Minnesota state Rep. Allen Quist is a solid Bachmann supporter. Quist's wife served as Bachmann's congressional district director until the spring of this year. Quist called Bachmann a personal friend and said her style of politics is exactly what energized Republicans are looking for.

"Well, I don't want to say much about Tim Pawlenty, but everybody knows he is the establishment candidate and I just don't think inside politics sells especially now," Quist said. "They're looking for someone who's independent and more grassroots. You know, I just think Michele is a far superior candidate."

Washington University Political Science Professor Steven Smith sees Bachmann's anti-establishment campaign as posing a real threat to Pawlenty. Being an ideologue, not a policy wonk insider, could be a selling point in 2012, Smith said.

"So the question is not so much whether she's a master of the deals of public policy," Smith  said. "She probably will have a hard time matching Pawlenty on that."

Smith said the real issue for a lot of Republicans is whether or not Bachmann is more truly committed to the conservative principles. He said where Bachmann has an edge over Pawlenty is in this reputation for having a true commitment to the cause.

Tonight's debate will be broadcast on CNN. Joining Bachmann and Pawlenty on stage will be former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.