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Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Landov, Cliff Owen/AP

Minnesota twins?

Campaign 2012 | The public images of Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann could not be more different: Mr. Nice Guy versus Mrs. Prairie Firebrand. But beneath the surface the two GOP presidential candidates have more in common than being from Minnesota. Those who know them say it would be a mistake to underestimate either one

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

AMES, Iowa-Having just finished courting Iowa Republicans at a dinner in Ames, presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty walks outside to court the media. He is almost immediately asked a question that includes a reference to rival Michele Bachmann's sex appeal.

Five of the six questions reporters pose to Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, deal with the Republican congresswoman who also hails from Minnesota.

"You know Bachmann pretty well. What are her strengths and qualifications?"

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"Could she beat Barack Obama?"

Pawlenty, trying to move up from the bottom of the GOP's presidential pack, smiles. Inside he may be seething, but he'd better get used to it.

The last election in which two White House contenders called Minnesota home was 1968. The state has brought America such liberals as Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and now Al Franken. Minnesotans haven't given their state's electoral votes to a Republican since 1972.

But this year Minnesota has gone red. Pawlenty has been called the most conservative governor in the state's history. Bachmann is the first Republican woman elected from the state to the U.S. House. Now both are fighting to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. Beyond being rare conservatives from a left-leaning state, both appeal to the same pro-life, pro-marriage, anti-Obamacare crowd.

Pawlenty famously has said Republicans should be the "party of Sam's Club not just the country club." Bachmann has embraced the rise of the Tea Party as warmly as any of her Capitol Hill colleagues. Both argue that they are the best options to unite all factions of the GOP. So what divides them? Both need a victory in Iowa's much-watched Aug. 13 straw poll to propel them toward November 2012.

Pundits and those who know them say it's hard to describe the two conservatives as Minnesota twins. Their political roots reside in Minnesota, yet anyone watching them on the campaign trail can see they possess different styles and distinct resumés. But a closer look at their working-class roots and current policy positions reveals at least a partly shared narrative.

Pawlenty, 50, grew up near the foul smelling slaughterhouses of the South St. Paul stockyards. He was one of five siblings in a Catholic family. His dad drove trucks, and his mom died while Pawlenty was a teenager. Then his dad lost his job. "I saw in the mirror the face of a very uncertain future," Pawlenty said.

He became the first member of his family to go to college. He stocked shelves in a grocery store for seven years and delivered newspapers to pay for tuition at the University of Minnesota where he earned undergraduate and law degrees. He wanted to be a dentist. He met his wife, Mary, in law school.

Bachmann, 55, was born in Iowa-a fact she doesn't hide in her campaign stops here. She describes how her ancestors "felled the trees and plowed the prairies" in Iowa's early days. "Everything I needed to know I learned in Iowa," she says.

Her grandparents worked on railroads, in sewing factories, and in packing plants. Her father was the first member of the family to go to college. Bachmann drove a school bus to help pay for college. She met her husband, Marcus, while attending Minnesota's Winona State University.

Both Pawlenty and Bachmann profess to be evangelical Christians and are comfortable discussing their beliefs in public. At the event in Ames, Pawlenty started his speech by talking about a passage in Isaiah Chapter 6 where God asks "Whom shall I send?" and Isaiah responds, "Send me."

"We have all been blessed with different resources," Pawlenty said. "The question is how are you going to use them? One of the most meaningful purposes we have in front of us is a responsibility to the care and custody of freedom."

Bachmann recently closed a speech in Washington, D.C., by evoking 1 Timothy 2:2 and asking the attendees to pray.

She then led the group in a prayer for the nation's leaders and its finances before asking for forgiveness for the nation's sins: "This is not a political scorecard," she prayed. "This is about the very life and future of our nation. So Father we lift it up to You. We ask that once again You will turn Your face towards us."

Both Bachmann and Pawlenty credit their spouses for helping them go deeper in their faiths. "She was pretty far ahead of me in terms of biblical memorization and knowledge," Pawlenty told me about his wife. "She really challenged me to get a better understanding of the Bible and its teachings."


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