By Kevin Diaz, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
WASHINGTON — Talking for the first time about her political future since she dropped out of the presidential race, Rep. Michele Bachmann said Wednesday that she is in the race to defend her seat in Congress.
“I am very thrilled to be in the position that I am today, and I am looking forward to continuing,” the Minnesota Republican, now in her third term, told the Star Tribune. “Obviously we’ll see what happens with these (redistricting) maps … But I do intend to run again.”
Bachmann, known as one of President Barack Obama’s harshest conservative critics in Congress, dismissed a recent poll suggesting that a majority of Minnesotans say she should step down.
“I’m running in the Sixth Congressional District,” she said. “The people are very positive about the service that I’ve given them. I’ve gotten tremendous response from the people all across the Sixth District.”
But even as she announced her plans to run again, Bachmann bristled at questions about her political ambitions, the presidential race, and her place in Congress. At one point, a press aide interrupted the interview to say Bachmann wanted to talk only about Obama’s State of the Union address and district topics like the proposed St. Croix River crossing.
Bachmann rejected any suggestion that her presidential bid, which focused heavily on her roots in Iowa, might have damaged her future prospects in Minnesota. “What people recognize is that I’ve worked extremely hard on their behalf,” she said.
She lauded the Senate approval Monday of the St. Croix River crossing, a project that’s crucial for her district and which also has been championed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Final passage awaits a long-delayed vote in the House.
“In regards to the Stillwater bridge, I have been at the forefront of that effort to make sure that it successfully goes through,” Bachmann said. “People see that I have laid it on the line.”
Democrats have attacked Bachmann for her frequent absences from Congress and for a long string of missed votes over the past year as she pursued the GOP nomination for president.
“Michele Bachmann has done absolutely nothing for the people of Minnesota’s Sixth District in the last year,” Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin said Wednesday. “Since September 2011, she has missed over 90 percent of the votes in Congress. Instead, she was flying around the country and catering to her tea party friends as part of her failed bid for president.”
But Bachmann said her constituents still support her. “They appreciate how hard I have worked for them. That’s why I’m confident. When I go back to Minnesota on a regular basis, people tell me how thrilled they are by the service I’ve been giving them.”
Bachmann, 55, took the Republican establishment by storm with a “tea party’’-fueled insurgency that gave her an unexpected win in the Iowa straw poll last August. But she struggled after that, and then dropped out of the presidential race after a last-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.
Since then, she has said nothing publicly about her plans, leading to speculation as to whether she would defend her U.S. House seat or pursue broader ambitions based on her newfound national stature.
So far she has made no endorsement in the GOP primary race, which appears to have settled into a two-man contest between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both establishment figures compared with Bachmann’s grassroots persona in Washington.
Meanwhile, there has been widespread speculation about whether she would run for the U.S. Senate, either against Klobuchar, who faces re-election this year, or against Democrat Al Franken, whose term ends at the end of 2014.
Bachmann’s decision to run again for her House seat comes a day after a Public Policy Polling survey found that 57 percent of Minnesotans hold an unfavorable view of her, compared with 34 percent who view her favorably. The same poll found that 37 percent say she should run again, while 57 percent say she should not.
Although Minnesota Republicans have largely left the field open for her in the Sixth District — at least publicly — she faces other potential obstacles. While she has been a prodigious fundraiser in Congress, her seven-month presidential campaign burned through money faster than she could raise it. In the end, she had no funds for a significant ad buy in Iowa, a state that was crucial to her White House bid. Political observers now will be watching closely next week when federal campaigns have to release their year-end financial reports.
Bachmann’s fast-growing north-suburban district also needs to shed tens of thousands of residents, meaning it could be significantly redrawn next month when a court panel rules on the state’s new congressional boundaries. One proposal put forward by the Minnesota DFL would pit her against U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a veteran St. Paul Democrat.
Finally, Bachmann also has to confront her outsider status in the House GOP hierarchy, which rejected her bid for a leadership position a year ago, just before she began talking about running for president.