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The Michele Bachmann—Tim Pawlenty Grudge Match

Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty are both sizing up a 2012 presidential bid. | AP Photos
Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty claim there’s room for two Minnesota Republicans. (Photo composite: AP via Politico)

By James Hohmann Logo - Click to return to home page
June 2, 2011


Michele Bachmann says there’s room enough for two Minnesota Republicans to run for president. Tim Pawlenty’s camp echoes that sentiment, insisting the former governor has “a good relationship” with the home-state congresswoman who suddenly poses a threat to his White House ambitions.

To hear them tell it, they’re happy to have each other in the 2012 race.


While both are card-carrying Republicans, they are members of different GOP tribes, never at war but not exactly at peace either. Now the congresswoman and the former governor are on a crash course that could shed revealing light on an already distant and awkward relationship — testing the Minnesota Nice ethos.

Bachmann, who appears to be gearing up to run for president, and Pawlenty, who announced his candidacy last week, have been acquainted with each other for at least a decade, dating back to when the two served in the state legislature. Even then, they disagreed over Pawlenty’s potential.

In 2002, as a first-term state senator serving in the minority, Bachmann backed a more conservative candidate against Pawlenty, who was then the state House majority leader seeking a promotion to the governorship. Pawlenty ultimately won, setting the stage for years of mostly below-the-radar conflict between the two Republicans on issues ranging from tax breaks for rural counties to education policy and cigarette taxes. She bucked him repeatedly during his first term, rained on his parade in January by unexpectedly releasing her presidential trial balloon on the eve of his much-ballyhooed book tour, and is at present poised to take him on directly in Iowa, an early presidential state that will be key to both their fortunes.

“She gets frustrated with Tim, that he’s not as much ‘charge from the seat of your pants,’ and Tim looks at Michele and thinks she’s too seat of her pants,” said former Bachmann chief of staff Ron Carey, who chaired Minnesota’s Republican Party during four of Pawlenty’s years as governor. …

A longtime Minnesota Republican operative who hasn’t taken sides but knows Pawlenty well and has a good relationship with Bachmann speculated that the former governor “would like to rip her lungs out right now.”

“He has planned it out methodically for years,” the operative said. “To see her, in his mind, recklessly come in, in a slapdash fashion, and ruin, potentially, his plans makes him insane to even think about,” the operative said. …

Privately, inside Pawlenty’s orbit there’s a sense that the former governor is the methodical tortoise to Bachmann’s flashy hare.

“There’s not a fatalistic sense, but she’s sure a pain in the ass,” one Pawlenty insider said. “Three months ago we were hoping Michele was just a flash in the pan so, no doubt, we’ve had to sober up around the possibility that she could get in and beat him … Certainly it’s a blow to the gut.” …

Stylistically, Bachmann has little in common with the mild-mannered Pawlenty. She’s a lightning rod for political controversy, a conservative provocateur with strong tea party credentials and a significant grassroots following. The former governor, who is more closely affiliated with the business-oriented conservative wing, is often criticized for being boring.

“I always say Michele’s an activist who happens to be a legislator,” said Minnesota Family Council President Tom Prichard, a prominent social conservative. “She’s a very passionate person … I can’t say one’s better than the other. They’re just different.”

Pawlenty dealt with Bachmann as little as possible while governor because she was difficult to work with, according to three former Pawlenty staffers.

“We actually kept her at arms’ length because if you’re dealing with a bomb thrower, it was very precarious building this coalition of folks and earning the trust of the public,” said a conservative who worked in the state’s department of education when Bachmann and Pawlenty were at odds over the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law. “When that happens, you can’t afford to have a wrecking ball come in and mess up what you’re doing.”

In one instance, Bachmann teamed up with Phil Krinkie, then a leading fiscal conservative in the state House, for an unsuccessful last-minute try at removing a 75-cent-per-pack cigarette tax supported by Pawlenty as he sought to close a budget deficit in May 2005.

As a result of her sharp criticism of the controversial deal — which was negotiated by Pawlenty — Bachmann was stripped of her state Senate leadership position.

“A team player Michele Bachmann is not,” said former state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who supports Pawlenty for president. “Even though the ball’s being moved ahead in the direction that she would like to go, if it’s not the Hail Mary pass all the way down the field it’s not good enough.” …

Carey, the former Bachmann chief of staff who now supports Pawlenty, worries that Bachmann will again prove to be a burr in Pawlenty’s saddle by inadvertently throwing the nomination to Mitt Romney. He compared Bachmann to former Sen. Fred Thompson, who took enough votes away from Mike Huckabee in 2008 to allow John McCain to carry the key state of South Carolina.

“My concern with Michele is that she fragments the conservative vote and then somebody like Romney, who is the moderate in this year’s primaries, is able to thread the needle,” Carey said. “Her emotionally charged campaign is going to steal enough votes early in the process that it opens a pathway for someone like Romney.” …

“If you measured it today, where Congresswoman Bachmann might have more support among some of the grassroots activists, Governor Pawlenty might have more support of the rank-and-file Republicans — the long-term donors and supporters of the state organization,” said Krinkie, who is now head of the Taxpayers League.

In the end, both of their fates could come down to the neighboring state of Iowa, which is central to both of their strategies. Bachmann talks about being a native — she was born in Waterloo — in every speech she delivers there, and Iowa has a tradition of backing outspoken social conservatives.

By outperforming Pawlenty at the Ames Straw Poll in August Bachmann could land a serious blow to perceptions of his viability.

“I think Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann are setting up similar to what Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback were in 2008,” said Steve Deace, the longtime conservative radio host in Des Moines. “I think that’s a loser-leave-town match, and whoever finishes ahead is in, and whoever finishes behind quits.” …

Read the full story at


Related reports

Here come the Republicans

Image: 114606360
Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty
(Photo composite: Saul Loeb / AP, Getty, Reuters)

Bachmann highlights role in banning gay marriage in speech to conservatives (AP via St. Cloud Times, June 3, 2011) — Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has told social conservatives not to let up as the 2012 election draws closer. The likely presidential candidate spread a message of perseverance to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. She highlighted her early role in pursuing a Minnesota ballot initiative banning gay marriage, which voters will decide next year. “Never despise small beginnings,” Bachmann told the crowd. … Bachmann has said she’ll announce her intentions this month in Iowa. Her speech also included a prayer in which she said “our nation hangs precariously in the balance.” … Full story

Pawlenty, Bachmann court evangelicals (Jeremy Herb, Star Tribune, June 3, 2011) — After receiving rousing ovations from the evangelical crowd with red-meat lines on repealing “Obamacare,” standing for Israel and winning the White House, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann lowered her head, closed her eyes and led a prayer. “We do pray for our president, we pray for the Supreme Court, we pray for the members of Congress, we pray for those who are in authority, because this is not a political scorecard,” said the Minnesota congresswoman. “This is about the very life and future of our nation.” Bachmann was in her element Friday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, a gathering of Christian conservatives. She and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were two of seven declared and potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates scheduled to speak at the two-day event hosted by Ralph Reed. … Full story



Pawlenty targets Bachmann (MSNBC “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” July 21, 2011) — Politico’s John Harris talks about former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s comments on Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraines and whether it will affect her job, if elected president. (01:53)


Bachmann compares Pawlenty to Obama (MSNBC “Martin Bashir,” July 25, 2011 ) — The Daily Beast’s Michelle Cottle discusses why Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty seem to be targeting each other lately. (03:20)


Related reports on this site

Bachmann-Pawlenty.jpg picture by Rifleman-Al
Bachmann stumping for Pawlenty

Dems Link Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann (Sept. 20, 2009)

Pawlenty Compared to Bachmann (Sept. 10, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — June 7, 2010

America’s Longest War

One year ago today, I reported that the date marked the end of 104 months of war in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in American history after the Vietnam War, which continued for 103 months following the Aug. 7, 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — June 7, 2009

Iraq-Afghanistan Update

Two years ago, on June 7, 2009, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), compiled from U.S. Department of Defense News Releases.

Army Spc. Charles D. Parrish, 23, of Jasper, Ala., died June 4, 2009 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered earlier that day in Jalula, Iraq, when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade. He was assigned to the 5th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Charles “Dusty” Parrish was wounded during a reconnaissance mission to clear land mines, just about a month shy of his expected return from Iraq after a 15-month deployment, according to his mother, Tina Rigsby. His homecoming was eagerly anticipated by his wife, Ashley, and his 4-year-old son Caden, Rigsby said.

An Army medic, Parrish trained many of the medics who assisted in his surgery after the attack, his mother said. “They said he gave a good fight,” she said.

“He was very athletic,” she said. “He couldn’t wait to get home because this is his son’s first year to play T-ball. He was going to come home and tell him how to bat.”

The family was struggling with how to tell Caden his dad wouldn’t be coming home.

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