The PJ Tatler

A Bachmann-Franken Race in 2014?

Scott Conroy at Real Clear Politics speculates on the possibility that Rep. Michele Bachmann will challenge incumbent Senator Al Franken in 2014.

Bachmann has not signaled publicly her interest in such a race, but her advisers do not deny that she might consider it down the road.

“Congresswoman Bachmann is focusing her time and energy on serving her constituents and holding listening sessions across Minnesota’s Sixth District, not on 2014,” Bachmann Communications Director Dan Kotman said in a statement to RCP.

Franken won his Senate seat in 2008 after prevailing in a recount, besting GOP incumbent Norm Coleman by 312 votes. The Democrat has spent the last four years seeking to shed his image as a “Saturday Night Live” jokester and liberal provocateur by keeping a relatively low profile on the national stage.

For the most part, that strategy appears to be working. In a Public Policy Polling (D) survey conducted last month, 52 percent of state voters approved of Franken’s job performance, while 42 percent disapproved.

In the same poll, Franken also topped Bachmann by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin in a hypothetical general election matchup — an early indication of the uphill climb the congresswoman would face in a statewide race.

Still, Bachmann would almost certainly be a strong contender to win a contested primary, and political opponents have underestimated her strengths in the past.

“I think if Bachmann decided to run, she’d be the favorite to win the nomination,” said Minnesota political analyst Larry Jacobs. “Whether she can win statewide is a bigger question and the question she will be thinking hard about.”

Despite her reputation as a conservative flame-thrower with a penchant for attention-grabbing gaffes, Bachmann is widely regarded among Minnesota political watchers as a savvy operator. And no one doubts that she could again raise enormous sums of money in a personality-driven general election battle that would draw tremendous attention outside the state.

But the congresswoman’s more immediate concern — holding onto her House seat — might cause her to think twice about mounting another underdog bid.

In fact, as Conroy mentions later, the precarious hold she has on her House seat may make her more willing to run for the Senate. Her redrawn 6th District is less GOP than it has been, although it is still +7 Republican according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. And in a mid-term election where turnout will be lower, Bachmann should have an easier time of it than her 5,000 vote squeaker in 2012.

But Bachmann may be the Republican’s best hope to upend Franken in 2014. She has the name recognition, and her ability to raise a lot of money would make her an ideal challenger in a relatively inexpensive media state.

One Minnesota political analyst believes she may be too conservative to win a state-wide race:

“Michele Bachmann understands she’s probably more conservative than the state, so she needs to figure out a way that a candidate who’s more conservative than the state can win,” Jacobs said. “It’s not impossible, particularly if the Democrats have a fall in turnout, like in 2010.”

There has been a history of moderate Republicans winning statewide office in Minnesota going back to the days of Senators Rudy Boschwitz and David Durenberger and most recently, Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Senator Norm Coleman. But the question of whether Ms. Bachmann is too conservative should be muted by the question is Al Franken too liberal for Minnesota.

Franken has carefully crafted a more mainstream personae during his first term, keeping his nose to the grindstone, and trying to keep the home folks happy. The man whose liberal talk radio show regularly offered bombastic critiques of the right has devolved into a puppy dog — non-confrontational, collegial, and avoiding controversy like the plague.

Norm Coleman offered this about Franken:

“He’s been pretty much invisible. In that sense he hasn’t created a lot of enemies. I don’t know if that’s his strategy, but it’s a pretty good strategy if it is.”

There are a couple of factors that would make Franken’s re-election more difficult. The first is that the GOP is on the rebound in Minnesota from decades of Democratic Farm-Labor dominance. The GOP took over both houses of the state legislature with big gains in 2010 (they lost them in 2012) and have been narrowing the gap in the presidential contest over the last 3 cycles. Secondly, Franken beat GOP incumbent Norm Coleman by only 312 votes, garnering only 42% of the vote in a three-way race. While there is no guarantee that another third party effort won’t damage GOP chances, the 13.5% won by Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley in 2008 probably won’t be repeated.

But you can be sure that if Bachmann jumps in the race, she will be a target of the Karl Rove-backed effort to field candidates who won’t constantly be having to take their feet out of their mouths. Bachmann’s gaffes have been well documented , and despite the absence in the race of another Republican with her stature and name recognition, Rove is likely to attempt to defeat Bachmann based on her past history of bomb-throwing.

If he tries it, he is going to find that in Bachmann, he will face a foe who won’t back down and will match him dollar for dollar in spending.