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May 24th, 2009

Who is The Third (Wo)Man in Minnesota’s 6th District DFL Contest?

On May 5, Paul Demko reported in the Minnesota Independent (“Tinklenberg and Reed will both vie for DFL endorsement”), “There will be a battle to determine who will get the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nod to take on Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2010.”

He continued, “Nancy Schumaker, chair of the Sixth Congressional District DFL, confirms that both Elwyn Tinklenberg and Maureen Reed have told local party activists that they intend to seek the endorsement.”

Maureen Reed

Then, in an aside that may have been overlooked in subsequent discussion of the looming face-off between Tinklenberg and Reed to secure the right to challenge Bachmann as the DFL-endorsed candidate in 2010, Demko noted, “Schumaker says there’s also been discussions with a third potential DFL candidate, but she won’t reveal the identity of that person.”

As Demko correctly observed in his May 5 report, “The [6th] district is the most Republican in the state and will be an extremely difficult race for any Democrat.” (He also reports that Schumaker believes Tinklenberg would have beaten Bachmann in 2008, had it not been for the presence of non-endorsed Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson, who garnered 10 percent of the vote, on the ballot — a charge Anderson and others have disputed and a question that cannot be empirically resolved.)

Elwyn Tinklenberg

Back to the issue of Minnesota’s “third man” (or woman) in the DFL 6th District primary contest. Before Reed appeared on the radar May 4 at a 6th District DFL gathering in Otsego, Demko reported as follows on April 17, 2009  (“Tinklenberg v. Bachmann redux? DFLers already eyeing 2010”) in the Minnesota Independent:

“At the top of the list of possible contenders for 2010 is her 2008 DFL opponent Elwyn Tinklenberg,” the former state transportation commissioner who lost to Bachmann by three percentage points.

“While Tinklenberg seems the most likely to take a run at Bachmann, other names are being floated as possible contenders. At the top of the list: state Sen. Tarryl Clark. The Assistant Majority Leader is seen as a rising star in DFL circles and is frequently mentioned as a possible 2010 gubernatorial contender. But with a bloated crop of candidates eyeing the Governors mansion, Clark may find the 6th Congressional District race more enticing.”

Tarryl Clark

Demko reported that any future political plans for Clark would likely be on hold until the end of the legislative session. With the session now officially over, it would be interesting to hear hear Clark’s thinking about the 6th District race. Clark set up a YouTube channel on March 31, 2009, which may indicate she is taking steps to raise her profile in anticipation of a run — or, it may simply be a sign of the times that she’s using the power of the Internet to amplify her message as the state Senate’s assistant majority leader.

Demko’s Apr. 17 article also references DFL Sixth Congressional District chair Nancy Schumaker’s statement that three possible candidates have emerged as DFL contender, but that she can’t name names, because “I do not have permission to release their names.”

Demko’s April 17 report clearly conveys just how tough it will be for any Democratic contender to beat Bachmann in 2010:

The DCCC maintains that whoever ultimately emerges as the party’s candidate, its eager to wage a vigorous campaign against Bachmann.

Instead of addressing the needs of the people she represents, the Congresswoman focuses her efforts on promoting far right-wing ideology and pursuing extremist rhetoric, says Gabby Adler, Midwest Regional Press Secretary for the DCCC, in a statement to MnIndy.

The people of the Sixth District are fed up with Congresswoman Bachmann, and we expect a strong challenger to emerge who will reflect the voters values and fight to protect jobs, reduce home foreclosures and promote local economic growth by promoting small business development.

But reality may be different from the fiery rhetoric. The vast gains for House Democrats in the last two election cycles mean that the party will be defending a lot of seats in GOP-friendly areas. Couple that with the fact that historically the party controlling Congress and the White House has lost seats in the first election following a presidential campaign, and it seems likely that Democrats will utilize the bulk of their resources to defend the seats they already have.

“Its way too early to know what seats the DCCC will target,” notes Nathan Gonzales, Political Editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “But they will be forced to focus a lot more on defending their own seats this cycle, rather than knocking off Republican incumbents.”

Bachmann may be a figure of ridicule in liberal circles, but shes proven herself a formidable political force in the conservative Sixth Congressional District.

“Despite all of the Democratic money and rhetoric, and even her own missteps, she keeps winning,” Gonzales adds. “Democrats love to hate Michele Bachmann, but they cant seem to figure out how to defeat her.”

In an article in today’s St. Cloud Times (“Rail isn’t priority for Bachmann,” May 24, 2009) about Bachmann’s opposition to “earmarking” the Northstar commuter rail extension to St. Cloud as a “high-priority project for the purpose of reauthorizing tax dollars in the Federal Highway Trust Fund for Northstar,” Gannett Washington Bureau political correspondent Larry Bivens refers to Clark as “a Northstar booster and potential 2010 Democratic candidate against Bachmann.”

In calling Clark a “potential 2010 Democratic candidate against Bachmann,” I think is reasonable to assume Bivens asked Clark whether she was a candidate and that Clark declined to either deny or confirm that she intended to run.

I say that, because Bivens asked me the same quesion in an April 23 interview for an article about Bachmann.


Related reports

Tinklenberg Challenger Speaks (May 13, 2009)

How to Beat Bachmann (May 9, 2009)



Tarryl Clark Will Run for Congress in Bachmann’s District

By Eric Black
July 15, 2009

Sen. Tarryl Clark has been telling people over recent days that she was heading that way, and now I’m confident that she will seek the DFL nomination for Congress to run for the seat held by arch-conservative Republican Michele Bachmann. I haven’t been able to speak to Clark directly about it. But since I first posted this morning, I have spoken to more DFLers, with direct knowledge of her plans, who confirm that Clark is in the race for Congress and is assembling a campaign staff.

Update: Statement from Tarryl Clark

In response to my post this a.m., Clark authorized one of her political associates to convey this statement:

“Sen. Clark is not ready to formally announce her candidacy for Congress from the Sixth District, but recently she has spent a great deal of time meeting with political leaders and key donors in the Sixth and across the state. She’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she’s received. She knows how important it is to make a decision soon and wants to hit the ground running if she decides to run. She’ll formally announce her decision in the near future.”

Clark, 47, of St. Cloud, is a lawyer, a DFL state senator and assistant majority leader. She has been mentioned for seemingly every recent political opening over the past two cycles and had been rumored to be thinking about the race for governor. But she will avoid that crowded field and instead enter the also-fairly-crowded field for DFL endorsement in the 6th.

Elwyn Tinklenberg, who has run in the 6th twice before and was the Dem nominee last time, is also preparing to run. Tinklenberg, a former mayor of Blaine and state transportation commissioner during the Ventura administration, lost an endorsement fight to Patty Wetterling in 2006 when the congressional seat was open. (Wetterling went on to lose to Bachmann.)

Tinklenberg won the DFL endorsement and nomination in 2008 but his campaign did not catch fire nor receive much attention until close to Election Day when Bachmann’s crazy statements about Barack Obama being “anti-American” brought tremendous attention to the race and big money to the Tinklenberg campaign. Bachmann still won, by 46-43 percent, with the Independence Party nominee receiving 10 percent.

Until Clark’s entry, Tinklenberg had been presumed to be the likely Bachmann challenger for 2010. Tinklenberg has been criticized as a lacklustre campaigner, but some felt that if he had top national campaign help and stayed active for a full two-year cycle, he could improve. He has not announced that he will run again but he did hire Dana Houle, a national campaign operative who has helped Dem candidates defeat two House Repub incumbents in recent years.

Update: Response from Tinklenberg’s campaign manager

“We’ve recently heard that Tarryl Clark has changed her mind about running for governor and is now considering running for Congress. She hasn’t spoken to Elwyn, but we’ve heard the same rumors.”

[My question to Houle: Assuming Clark does get in, how does it change the race?]

“It would distract us from running full-time against Michele Bachmann, which would be unfortunate, but if we have to fight for the nomination, that’s what we’ll do.”

Dr. Maureen Reed, who was the Independence Party nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, has announced that she will seek endorsement by both the DFL and the Independence-ites for the seat. Reed, a physician and former chair of the U of M Board of Regents, is something of an untested politician but reported an impressive start to her fundraising. It’s possible that if she fails to win the DFL endorsement, Reed could stay in the race representing the Independence Party. (Which means, given Clark’s entry, it’s possible this could be a three-way all-female contest.)

I spoke to Reed, who said Clark’s entry would not change her plans in any way: “Our race is the same, regardless of who’s in it.” Reed will seek both endorsements. When I asked whether, if she loses the Dem endorsement, she would run in a primary, Reed said: “Plan A is to get the endorsement. Plan B is to make Plan A work.”

After 2008, some DFLers concluded that if Bachmann couldn’t be defeated in 2008, with Obama-mania elevating Dem turnout everywhere and with Bachmann creating a major embarrassment in the last days of the campaign, she might be unbeatable in the Repub-leaning district, at least until the district lines are redrawn, which will occur before the 2012 cycle. Clark apparently thinks otherwise. She will have to give up her state Senate seat to run for Congress, unless she is eliminated from the race in time to seek another Senate term.

Among the reasons Clark has been considered so promising in DFL circles is that in 2005, in a special election, she won that Senate seat in a district that had been solidly Republican, then held the seat by a double-digit margin in the regular 2006 election. Articulate and attractive, Clark has often been the public face of the Senate DFL caucus.

Clark is an abortion rights supporter, which will make it easier for her to attract national Democratic financial support (Emily’s List?), but could complicate her chances in the 6th District, which is the most anti-abortion of Minnesota’s congressional districts. The district stretches from St. Cloud/Stearns County on the west, arches acorss the north metro suburbs and exurbs, including parts of Anoka County, and reaches the Wisconsin border on the east (Stillwater and Washington counties).

Clark was encouraged to run by some Washington Democrats, who have grown skeptical of Tinklenberg’s ability to win the seat.


Related report

DFL’s Tarryl Clark to Take on Bachmann in 2010

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (KSTP TV, June 15, 2009) — Minnesota could again have one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country in 2010.

It could be a close race if Rep. Michele Bachmann faces off against a prominent Democrat who could raise a lot of money and national support.

For weeks, the political blogoshpere has been full of speculation that Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark might challenge Bachmann. On Wednesday, sources close to Clark tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she will run. …

Full story


3/21/10 Update

What kind of candidate can beat Michele Bachmann? (Lori Sturdevant, Star Tribune, March 20, 2010) — Who’s more likely to perform the politically Herculean feat of ousting GOP cable TV darling Michele Bachmann from her Sixth District congressional seat — DFL insider Tarryl Clark or outsider Maureen Reed? … Full story

10 Responses to “MN-06: Who is ‘The Third Man’?”
  1. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    Cross-posted from “Liberal in the Land of Conservative” at

    I think it’s advantage Clark with the Democratic base. She also strikes me as the most charismatic of the three candidates, which will appeal to rank-and-file voters.

    Tinklenberg is not as strong in that area, but he has an established campaign organization, which should be helpful. I thought Reed’s candidacy as lieutenant governor in 2006, which helped reelect Pawlenty, would hurt her with Democrats, but I haven’t seen that yet. Her organizational fundraising abilities are impressive.

    That said, I share Blueman’s skepticism that a Democrat can win in the Sixth, particularly considering that 2010 is likely to be less favorable for Democrats than 2006 and 2008 and considering that Obama will not be at the top of the ticket to help bring out the Democratic vote.

    My analysis is posted at the link below:

  2. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    Cross-posted from CQ Politics at

    A primary challenge by Tinklenberg is a sure recipe for disaster if Democrats hope to defeat Bachmann in 2010.

    The 2010 Minnesota state primary election will be held Sept. 14 next year, which would leave the DFL (Democratic) nominee less than two months to campaign against Bachmann.

    Even in a best-case scenario — we saw one in 2010, a Democratic year with Obama at the top of the ticket to get out the Democratic vote and Bachmann shooting herself in the mouth weeks before the election with her “anti-American” rant on “Hardball” — I’m skeptical that any Democrat can win in Minnesota’s heavily Republican 6th Congressional District.

    For Bachmann to lose — even without a Democratic primary in-fight — she’d have to self-destruct. Never say never, but from what I’ve seen up close (I campaigned against Bachmann in 2006 and ran against her in the 2008 primary), it seems the more outrageous Bachmann’s inflammatory political rhetoric, the more delusional her conspiracy theories, and the more florid her political paranoia, the more endearing she becomes with her base.

    That may be hard to understand for someone not familiar with the unique culture of this part of Minnesota (which inspired Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon”), but that’s the way it is.

    Additional perspective at the URL below:

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