Bachmann sticks close to home after close election last year

Michele Bachmann
Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, center, made a stop at the Minnesota Senate Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 and talks to Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, right. At left are Senators David Senjem and Michelle Fischbach, both Republicans.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann held a rare news conference Monday, not to speak out against Obamacare or the high price of gas but instead to call for more transportation spending in her district.

Since abandoning her 2012 presidential campaign and almost losing her congressional re-election campaign last year, Bachmann has shrunk her national profile and made a point of promoting her efforts to address concerns close to home.

Bachmann gathered local and state officials as well as people from 6th Congressional District area businesses to call for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to add lanes to Interstate 94 and upgrade Highway 10.

Introducing herself to the room of people who knew who she was, Bachmann tripped over her words in a way that highlighted a political problem she's working to overcome.

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"My name is Michele Bachmann. I'm the member of Congress who's fortunate enough to remember the good, to represent the good people in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District," she said.

Bachmann narrowly won re-election last fall, defeating DFL newcomer Jim Graves by a little more than one percentage point. Critics complained that Bachmann's presidential campaign came at the expense of 'remembering' and representing her 6th District constituents.

Rothenberg Political Report Senior Analyst Jessica Taylor said as a Republican running in the state's most conservative district Bachman should have easily won. Bachmann is not saying whether she plans to run for re-election to Congress again next year. But Taylor notes that Bachmann has largely been absent from the national stage.

Bachmann at CPAC
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 16, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Pete Marovich/Getty Images

"The steps that she seems to be taking right now to sort of repair her image locally seems to suggest that she's running for re-election to her congressional district again," Taylor said. "We haven't seen a lot of her on Fox News of national television shows."

Bachmann denies that she's conducting her congressional business in a different way than previous terms. But she emphasizes that she held some 300 local meetings this year alone in an effort to get a handle on what the people she represents in Congress are concerned about.

"And 300 meetings is a lot of meetings," Bachmann said. "I tried to sit down with every state senator, every state representative ... because I wanted to know what the pulse was."

Carlton College political science professor Steven Schier said he too thinks Bachmann is positioning herself for another congressional re-election campaign next year.

"I think what you're seeing now is a dramatic change in the political perspective of Michel Bachmann," Schier said.

Schier said it's unclear whether Bachmann can repair the damage from paying so much attention to national politics.

"The worst situation for congressional incumbents [is] to be known in your district and not to be popular. And I think that's one of the problems Michele Bachmann now faces," Schier said. "People have made up their minds in their district about her."

Schier dismisses speculation Bachmann would attempt a run for U.S. Senate or governor after barely winning in her own district.

Democrats are almost certain to make Bachmann a top target if she runs again next year.

But Jessica Taylor from the Rothenberg Political Report said Bachmann's prospects should be stronger in 2014 than they were in 2012 if for no other reason that it's an off-year — Democrats typically do well in Minnesota in presidential election years.

Even if Jim Graves runs and attracts a lot of national money, Taylor says 2014 could be an all together different year for him than 2012.

"It becomes even more difficult for him in a mid-term year," Taylor said. "I think you could see a more Republican electorate, especially there in the 6th District."

The tone of Bachmann's fundraising materials suggests she's planning to run again. But she's side-stepping re-election questions and said she's focused on other things right now.

"I'll be announcing I suppose at some point but it's a little early for that," she said.

Pressed about a timeline for a possible re-election announcement Bachmann said, "probably not before the crocuses come."

Graves said he's giving "very serious consideration" to running again and that he will make an announcement in "very early April."