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Minnesota twins?

"Minnesota twins?" Continued...

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

Conservatives did criticize Pawlenty for being a one-time supporter of cap-and-trade policies and for toying with government healthcare exchanges in 2007. He has since abandoned both and fought the new federal healthcare law as governor. On the campaign trail Pawlenty has denied any responsibility for Minnesota's most recent shutdown, saying it is due to a 20 percent spending increase he would have never allowed.

Pawlenty has been touting this resumé during his recent Iowa tour. "It is about record not just rhetoric," he said. "Do you just flap your jaws or do you get things done?"

This is a subtle swipe at Bachmann. Into her third congressional term Congress has yet to pass a single piece of legislation authored by Bachmann. She has not been tapped to lead a congressional committee or subcommittee. In recent speeches, she likes to highlight a "light bulb freedom of choice" act she has sponsored.

Bachmann has had six chiefs of staff since taking office. One of those former office heads, Ron Carey, described Bachmann's office as "wildly out of control" in an op-ed for the Des Moines Register. "If she is unable, or unwilling, to handle the basic duties of a campaign or congressional office, how could she possibly manage the magnitude of the presidency?" Carey wrote.

Until last year's election, Bachmann had spent the bulk of her time on Capitol Hill handcuffed as a member of the minority party. Last fall, after Republicans won control of the House, Bachmann made an unsuccessful bid to join the GOP leadership team.

Rebuffed, she created her own leadership position by founding and chairing the Tea Party Caucus. In January, she irked GOP leaders by offering her own televised response to Obama's State of the Union address even though Republicans had selected Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to give the party's official reaction.

Viewing herself in Congress as a "foreign correspondent behind enemy lines," Bachmann tries to use her lack of legislative accomplishments as a strength during her speeches: "What I have tried fervently to do is to bring a different voice to Washington and to the halls of Congress that hasn't been heard for very long," she said.

This preference for an outside over an inside political game is the same tactic Bachmann used as a member of the Minnesota Senate. The Minnesota Family Council's Tom Prichard remembers getting a call from Bachmann soon after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional in 2003.

"She said if this could happen in Massachusetts it could happen in Minnesota. She was ready to roll," Prichard said of Bachmann, who pushed for a state constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriages in Minnesota. "I see her as an activist who happens to be a legislator."

Bachmann spoke the language of the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed. Without the rise of the Tea Party it's doubtful her presidential campaign would exist. And if Bachmann found her audience in the Tea Party, she found her ultimate cause in the debate over Obamacare.

Her attacks on the bill, which she called the "crown jewel of socialism," culminated in an October 2009 appearance on Fox News when she called on citizens to make a "House call" on the Capitol in the days before the vote. "I'm asking people to come to Washington, D.C., by the carload . . . find members of Congress, look at the whites of their eyes, and say, 'Don't take away my healthcare.' This is our liberty and tyranny moment."

Thousands joined Bachmann around the steps of the Capitol.

But the frequency of Bachmann's exposure increases the odds of gaffes. She has had more than a few including claiming that an Obama trip to India would cost $200 million a day, that airstrikes in Libya potentially killed up to 30,000, and that Iran had a secret plan to partition Iraq.

So far, the gaffes haven't stopped Bachmann from gaining in the polls-seemingly at the expense of Pawlenty. Highlighting the importance of the Aug. 13 straw poll in Ames to both candidates, Pawlenty and Bachmann ended July locked in an intensifying verbal battle. Bachmann on July 24 argued that Pawlenty's time as governor led to a multibillion-dollar deficit in Minnesota: "Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government," she said. Pawlenty came back a day later by shedding his Minnesota Nice persona and saying that Bachmann has a history of "saying things that are off the mark."

Pawlenty supporters believe he will persist. Steve Sviggum, the former House speaker, said Pawlenty installed a bubble hockey game in the basement of the governor's mansion where he successfully took on three opponents at a time in late night challenges of the foosball-style game. "I believe in my heart that he will be the last man standing," Sviggum told me. "He doesn't have anything hidden in his closet that will bring him down in October or November."

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