Election 2010 Outlook in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District
By Aubrey Immelman
July 27, 2009
Part I: The Political Environment
This is the first in a two-part series examining the outlook for the 2010 U.S. House of Representatives election in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Part I surveys the political environment in which the contest will take place. Part II, to follow closer to the election, will take a look at the candidates.
The first and by far the primary consideration with respect to predicting election outcome is party-political affiliation. In presidential elections, roughly 90 percent of voters vote their party-political identification.
However, in congressional districts, party-line voting is somewhat less robust as a predictor, with a candidate’s personal qualities and other unique factors occasionally playing a significant role. A local example is Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District – the state’s most solidly Republican district after the 6th – who won reelection with about 70 percent of the vote in the last two election cycles.
So, how Republican is Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District?
The Cook Partisan Voting Index (CPVI), a measure of how strongly an American congressional district or state leans toward one political party compared with the nation as a whole, rates the 6th District as Republican-leaning with a CPVI of R+7.
The index is derived by averaging a district’s results from the previous two presidential elections and comparing them with national results. The 6th District’s index indicates that the Republican Party’s presidential candidate (R) was significantly more successful in the district than his Democratic opponent in the past two elections, exceeding the national average by seven percentage points (+7).
Specifically, John McCain beat Barack Obama 53.3 percent to 44.6 percent in 2008 and George W. Bush beat John Kerry 57 percent to 42 percent in 2004.
The ceiling level of support for a Democratic candidate in terms of party-political affiliation in the 6th District in a best-case scenario is reflected in a SurveyUSA poll conducted October 20-21, 2008 in the immediate aftermath of incumbent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s October 17 fiasco on MSNBC “Hardball” with Chris Matthews. In that poll, Democratic nominee Elwyn Tinklenberg led Bachmann 47 percent to 44 percent, with 6 percent support for unendorsed Independence Party (IP) candidate Bob Anderson and 2 percent undecided.
Looking at the internals of the poll, Tinklenberg drew the support of 87 percent of self-identified Democratic respondents, 15 percent of self-identified Republicans, and 51 percent of self-identified independents. By comparison, Bachmann drew the support of 79 percent of self-identified Republicans, 8 percent of self-identified Democrats, and 35 percent of self-identified independent respondents. (Anderson was favored by 12 percent of independents, 4 percent of Republicans, and 3 percent of the Democratic respondents.)
The poll results suggest that for a Democrat to win in the 6th, that candidate has to retain the support of nearly 90 percent of Democratic voters, win more than 50 percent of the independent vote, and take around 15 percent of the Republican vote.
Those numbers may be difficult to attain in an actual election; the SurveyUSA poll was conducted at the worst possible time for Bachmann, in the wake of a national controversy yielding overwhelmingly negative press in the midst of a wave election year for Democrats.
In terms of party-political affiliation, the bottom line is that any Democratic candidate is at a serious disadvantage in Minnesota’s 6th District, where Republican congressional candidate Mark Kennedy defeated Democratic contender Janet Robert by 22.2 points in 2002 and Patty Wetterling by 8.1 points in 2004; George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 14.4 points in 2004; Tim Pawlenty bested Democrat Mike Hatch by 18.6 points in the 2006 gubernatorial race; and John McCain beat Barack Obama by 8.7 points in 2008.
Past voter behavior as a predictor
Another consideration in election-outcome prediction is past voter behavior. Even though this variable is highly correlated with party-political identification, it does yield additional insights.
Bachmann received 50.1 percent of the vote in a three-way race when she was first elected in 2006 and 46.4 percent of the vote in another three-way race when she ran for reelection as a first-term incumbent in 2008. The 46-percent number is probably a worst-case scenario for Bachmann, given that the election was held a couple of weeks after her “Hardball” fiasco and considering that 2008 was the worst election year for Republicans in decades, with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket to help get out the Democratic vote. That will not be the case in 2010.
Averaging the results in the past two 6th District congressional elections in which Bachmann was a candidate yields the following means: Bachmann, 48.3 percent; Democratic candidate, 42.8 percent; Independence Party candidate, 8.9 percent. In a counterfactual scenario in which those numbers are converted to a hypothetical two-way race in which two-thirds of the IP vote goes to the Democratic candidate and one-third to Bachmann, Bachmann still beats the Democrat, by about 51 percent to 49 percent.
Personal qualities of the candidate
As noted earlier, a candidate’s personal qualities occasionally trumps party-political affiliation as an election-outcome predictor in congressional races. Indeed, that seems to be a significant, though secondary, factor in the 6th District, where Bachmann has consistently underperformed relative to Republican presidential candidates. In 2008, Bachmann gained just 46.4 percent of the vote, compared with McCain’s 54.3 percent. When she was first elected, in 2006, Bachmann won 50 percent of the vote, significantly less than Bush’s 57 percent two years earlier, in 2004.
However, those numbers should be interpreted with caution, because third-party candidates have traditionally played a much more prominent role in 6th District congressional elections than in presidential elections. In that regard, it’s instructive to examine the performance of Democratic candidates as well for purposes of comparison.
In 2008, Democratic candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg gained 43.4 percent of the vote, compared with Obama’s 44.6 percent. In 2004, Patty Wetterling got 46 percent of the vote in a two-way race, compared with 42 percent for John Kerry.
The fact that, unlike Bachmann, Democratic candidates have not underperformed relative to their party’s presidential candidate suggests that the “personal qualities” factor – Bachmann’s qualities, not the Democrat’s – does play a role on the margins in 6th District congressional elections. Stated differently, Bachmann performs significantly worse in the 6th District than would be expected of a Republican candidate.
The best evidence of the potentially key role of personal qualities in electoral success is provided by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the only Democrat ever at any level to outperform a Republican in the 6th District. In 2006, Klobuchar beat 6th District incumbent Rep. Mark Kennedy by a 4.8-point margin in his bid for Senate, 50.5 percent to 45.7 percent, with 3.2 percent going to IP candidate Robert Fitzgerald.
What does that tell us? It vividly illustrates that to have any hope of beating Bachmann Democrats will have to field a candidate with the personal qualities of an Amy Klobuchar. In common political jargon, that translates to personal “charisma.”
Some structural considerations
In part because many congressional districts have been effectively gerrymandered by political parties, approximately 96-97 percent of U.S. House of Representatives incumbents are reelected. As a second-term incumbent, Bachmann is strongly favored to retain her seat in 2010.
Nonetheless, most political analysts regard Bachmann as vulnerable, because of her small 3-point margin of victory in 2008 in conjunction with her failure to win more than 50 percent of the vote.
But exactly how vulnerable is Bachmann? One heuristic for discerning that is to establish the strength of her electoral base – those voters who will support her no matter what.
Looking back at poll numbers in the past two election cycles, with the exception of a couple of outliers early in the 2006 and 2008 races, Bachmann’s support has consistently held above 42 percent. I consider that her “floor level” of support. Stated differently, absent a serious scandal or criminal offense, Bachmann is virtually assured of 42 percent of the vote in a Sixth District congressional race (though in reality she has never won less than 46 percent of the vote).
The strongest performance by a Democrat in a three-way race against Bachmann is Tinklenberg’s 43.3 percent against Bachmann in 2008.
That figure has important practical implications. If support for Bachmann can be stripped down to her electoral base (42%) and the Democratic candidate can match Tinklenberg’s 43 percent of the vote, it would be possible for the Democrat to win even if the IP candidate takes as much as 15 percent of the vote (equivalent to IP candidate Dean Barkley’s share of the statewide vote in the 2008 U.S. Senate election opposite Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman).
For historical perspective on the strength of the IP in 6th District congressional races, Dan Becker won 7.5 percent of the vote in 2002; John Binkowski gained 7.8 percent in 2006; and in 2008 Bob Anderson received 10 percent of the vote. The performance of third-party candidates in the 6th appears to be trending upward. Realistically, it’s difficult to see any plausible scenario in which a Democrat beats Bachmann with a centrist third-party candidate on the ballot.
Some Democrats have accused the IP of playing a “spoiler” role in 6th District congressional races, throwing the race to the Republican candidate. However, as long as the IP enjoys major-party status in Minnesota (winning at least 5 percent of the vote in statewide races), it’s easy to get ballot access on the IP line. Thus, it’s simply realistic to assume that someone will file as an IP candidate in the 2010 election, whether he or she has the IP endorsement or not – and prospective Democratic candidates should plan accordingly (and hope the candidate appeals more to prospective Bachmann voters than to Democrats).
Another complicating factor for Democratic hopefuls is the historical tendency for the party that wins the White House to lose seats in the first subsequent mid-term election. (Recall the 1994 “Republican revolution” during President Bill Clinton’s first term.) That suggests that it would be more, not less difficult for a Democrat to beat Bachmann in 2010 than it was in 2008 with Obama’s landslide Electoral College victory.
The trend toward the minority party in the wake of the Democratic sweep in the 2008 election is already evident in Minnesota. Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics, the blog of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, reports that the latest monthly SurveyUSA poll finds more Minnesota residents identifying as Republicans than at any point in more than four years. The poll of 600 adults statewide, conducted July 17-19, 2009 also finds Republicans now match the Democrats in party ID for the first time since October 2005.
Finally, one of the most enduring factors in election outcomes is the economy, with the party controlling the White House getting punished at the ballot box when the economy is bad. (Recall the 1992 Clinton slogan, “[It's] the Economy, Stupid.”) Stated bluntly, the outcome of the 2010 congressional race may hinge on the success or failure of President Obama’s economic recovery program.
Thus, for a Democrat to beat Bachmann, the economy in November 2010 will have to be broadly perceived as improving, with Obama and the Democratic Congress receiving much of the credit. On the contrary, if the economy remains in recession, Democratic candidates will pay a price at the polls and Bachmann will reap the rewards of opposing not only Obama’s economic proposals, but Bush’s bailouts as well.
Predictably, in the November 2, 2010 general election, Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann won easily with 52.5 percent of the vote, Democratic challenger Tarryl Clark received 39.8 percent, and independents Bob Anderson (Independence Party; 5.8%) and Aubrey Immelman (unaffiliated nonpartisan; 1.8%) took a combined 7.6 percent of the vote.
Up Next: Part II — The Candidates
Dr. Maureen Reed, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and state Sen. Tarryl Clark
(Photo collage: MinnPost)
Strong start for Clark, but Reed makes her pitch to take on Bachmann
(Eric Black, MinnPost, Oct. 2, 2009)
Immelman to challenge Bachmann – again
(Dennis Dalman, Sartell Newsleader, April 29, 2010)
Bob Anderson back on ballot for Sixth District congressional race
(T.W. Budig, ECM Publishers, June 10, 2010)
Bill Prendergast responds to people from other parts of the country who ask him questions such as these: What is wrong with you people? They have footage of [Bachmann] lying on television, how can this nut even be taken seriously?
Excerpt: We send stuff to the [local] press, letters, calls for corrections, documented evidence of her craziest statements and lies — the professional press and the big papers don’t run it. We’ve been putting it on the Web for years; they won’t go near it. Not one journalist in a big local newspaper is willing to report the crazy [expletive] that she’s said over the years on local conservative and evangelical radio. …
Eric Ostermeier of “Smart Politics” (the blog of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs), in an analysis of more than 560 U.S. House of Representatives contests in Minnesota since statehood, found that just 12.7 percent of incumbents who appeared on the general election ballot failed to win reelection. For 2-term incumbents, like Rep. Michele Bachmann, 88.2 percent have won a third consecutive term.
ECM Capitol reporter T.W. Budig reports that U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is in the ascendancy as a new face of the Republican Party nationally, having become a regular on cable television and generating more Google name search returns than many longer-serving members of Congress.
Derek Wallbank, reporting for MinnPost in “D.C. Dispatches,” writes: Reps. Michele Bachmann [MN-06] and Erik Paulsen [MN-03] are increasingly likely to hold on to their seats this November thanks to an increasingly pro-Republican national climate, according to an analysis of House races released today by the Cook Political Report. … Bachmann is now rated as “Likely” to hold her seat, an upgrade in safety from “Lean.” Paulsen was moved to “Solid” from “Likely.” …
By Dennis Dalman
April 29, 2010
A Sartell man has decided, once again, to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the congressional seat for the Sixth District.
Aubrey Immelman recently announced he will run against Bachmann but is not yet sure if he will challenge her as a Republican or an Independent. In 2008, Immelman ran against Bachmann in a write-in campaign [* see correction below].
At that time, Immelman walked across the Sixth District to meet people, from Paynesville to Stillwater, which is Bachmann’s hometown. …
Just recently, Bachmann and Sarah Palin hosted a huge rally in Minneapolis in an effort to boost Bachmann’s re-election bid next November. Both Bachmann and Palin have become perhaps the two most visible and well known of any Republicans now in the limelight.
Immelman has always maintained Bachmann is far too extreme in her statements and her policy positions.
Immelman’s [campaign] motto is: “Fiscal restraint without extremist rhetoric.” His website also emphasizes the following themes: security, law and order, fiscal responsibility and an “uncompromising opposition to extremist rhetoric.” …
Immelman, 53, is a psychology professor at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict. He holds degrees from the University of South Africa, the University of Wyoming and the University of Maine. A former member of a military parachute battalion, Immelman is also a military consultant in the areas of nuclear counterproliferation, threat assessment, deterrent options and human factors.
He is a member of Stearns County Skywarn, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and the International Society of Political Psychology.
He and his wife, Pam, have four children: Tim, Elizabeth, Matt and Patrick.
Immelman challenged Bachmann in the Sept. 9, 2008 Republican primary for the GOP nomination. After losing the primary election, he suspended his campaign. Then, on Oct. 18, 2008, in response to Bachmann’s Oct. 17 remarks on MSNBC “Hardball” with Chris Matthews in which she called for an investigation of members of Congress for anti-American activities, Immelman responded by filing as a write-in candidate against Bachmann.
Mark Zdechlik of Minnesota Public Radio reports on MPRnewsQ:
After her only primary challenger, fellow DFLer Maureen Reed, dropped out this week, State Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, is turning her full attention toward her ultimate target in the 6th district congressional race: Michele Bachmann. …
While Clark and DFL leaders talk optimistically about their chances to take down Bachmann this fall, some analysts say if the Democrats couldn’t defeat Bachmann two years ago amid all of the enthusiasm around Barack Obama, they will be hard-pressed to defeat her this year.
Kay Wolsborn, a political science professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, said voters are angry and unsettled right now and even though Bachmann looks to be in a good position, that could change.
“In a sort of scale that goes from very secure to very vulnerable, she’s on the vulnerable side of the middle,” Wolsborn said. [See here for counterpoint.] She will have her base, no doubt. The question is: Can she retain enough independent voters?”
In my opinion, independent voters will be key to the election outcome in November. My analysis shows that Bachmann’s core base of support in the 6th District is in the region of 42 percent; however, recent polling shows that 53 percent of Bachmann’s constituents approve of her job performance, with Bachmann leading Clark 55-37 percent in a head-to-head contest.
In terms of predicting the November election outcome, Bachmann’s lead of 18 percentage points over Clark in a hypothetical twoway race should be weighed against the reality that this is, in fact, a fourway race, with two right-of-center conservatives in the mix: Independence Party nominee Bob Anderson (who won 10% of the vote in the threeway 2008 general election) and unaffiliated independent candidate Aubrey Immelman (who won 14% of the vote in the 2008 Republican primary).
Minnesota Public Radio
June 23, 2010
Anoka, Minn. — Most of the attention over Minnesota’s 6th District congressional race has focused on Republican incumbent Rep. Michele Bachmann and her DFL challenger, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, but there’s another major party candidate in the race: Bob Anderson.
Anderson, who has the backing of the Independence Party, could have a big impact on a race that most believe he has little chance of winning. …
“I’m not a career politician by any means, I’m more of a citizen advocate,” he said. “I’m a dental technician by trade. I make teeth.”
Anderson, 52, lives in Woodbury. Although he still works for his family’s dental business, he sold his stake in the enterprise several years ago. He says the most pressing issue facing the nation is jobs, and that his background as a small business owner makes him uniquely qualified to help turn around the economy. …
Two years ago, Bob Anderson first tried to defeat Rep. Bachmann. He spent $800 of his own money on that campaign. He did not have the Independence Party endorsement, and didn’t come close to winning, but he got 10 percent of the vote — though some observers think his relative success had more to do with his common name than his message.
This time, Anderson has the IP’s official backing. He’s hoping that will help him break through to voters who are fed up with Republicans and Democrats. …
Anderson says he’s a Catholic opposed to legalized abortion. He says Clark, a Democrat who supports legalized abortion, is too liberal for the 6th District. He says Republican Bachmann is more interested in promoting herself than working for her Minnesota constituents.
College of Saint Benedict / St. John’s University political science professor Kay Wolsborn says even without much money, she expects Bachmann and Clark will take Anderson very seriously. The election is expected to be close and even if Anderson has little chance of winning he could take votes from either of them.
Wolsborn says Bachmann and Clark will likely call Anderson’s credentials into question, and underscore that he’s never held elected office.
“They will use that. On the other hand, in a year like this a smart candidate can use that as a positive,” she said. “[The candidate might say,] ‘Well I don’t have these dues to pay to politicians and politics as usual. I don’t have a lot of baggage.’ So, he can use that in his favor as well.”
Not only does he have little experience, but Anderson has almost no money. He says he’s loaned his campaign about $2,200 and raised about $100. In comparison, Bachmann has amassed more than $2.3 million through the end of March. Clark had raised more than $1.1 million. …
By Professor David Schultz
Schultz’s Take blog
September 10, 2010
… Democrats have a far better chance picking up [Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District] than they do knocking off Michelle Backmann with Tarryl Clark.
The Futile Effort to Beat Bachmann
There is virtually no chance the Democrats will defeat Bachmann. I have argued this for months. Bachmann’s sixth district seat is apportioned approximately six points ahead for Republicans. She is a conservative candidate in a conservative district. She is the Tea Party leader in a Tea Party GOP year. She fits her district well [Note: I disagree; the majority of 6th District constituents are not loons and nuts — A.I.] and has already survived several attempts to knock her off in previous years (most recently ’08) more favorable to Democrats.
Democrats would be better served to wait until 2012, after reapportionment, when new lines may change the Sixth and make it more competitive, or when Bachmann makes the foolish move to run for the senate againt Klobuchar and gets waxed by her.
Yet Democrats cannot resist themselves. Democrats from around the country are pouring millions into this race and yet there is no evidence that Clark is catching up or gaining ground. Yes, Democrats have to challenge her and force her to campaign at home so that she does not travel and fundraise and campaign for others. But from a cost-benefit perspective, pouring millions here makes no sense. Sure there might be a symbolic victory in knocking her off, but with Democrats having to defend so many seats and having to decide where to best spend, resources need to be placed where it makes the most sense.
Democrats are too preoccupied with Bachmann, in part because she is a fundraising tool. She is the bogey(wo)man they can use to raise money. Keith Olbermann and MSNBC give her too much attention, in large part to hype their own ratings. Too much media attention is focused on Clark and Bachmann, like the train wreck we cannot resist watching. Or it reminds me of that old commercial — “I have fallen and can’t get up.” Here, the media and Democrats cannot resist covering or giving money in this race. …
Related reports on this site
CQ Rates Bachmann’s Seat Safe (May 17, 2010)
MN-06 Poll: Bachmann Approval 53% (Dec. 22, 2009)
Poll: Bachmann Approval at 51% (Nov. 14, 2009)
Democratic Reality Check in 2010? (Aug. 22, 2009)
Building a Non-Partisan Coalition (Aug. 5, 2009)
Bachmann Rated ‘Most Vulnerable’ (July 24, 2009)
Bachmann Faces Two-Front Fight (July 16, 2009)
MN-06: Who is ‘The Third Man’? (May 24, 2009)
Tinklenberg Challenger Speaks (May 13, 2009)
How to Beat Bachmann (May 9, 2009)
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago Today — July 27, 2008
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