The Unsinkable Michele Bachmann

The Rothenberg Political Report came out with its first U.S. House rankings for the 2010 election cycle on Wednesday, and both of Minnesota’s competitive Republican-held Congressional districts made the list. Erik Paulsen’s 3rd CD and Michele Bachmann’s 6th CD are listed as “Republican favored” – two of ten GOP seats highlighted by Rothenberg as likely Democratic targets nationwide.

Bachmann continues to mystify national (and some statewide) observers, by winning elections despite making headlines for controversial statements (e.g. interviews on Hardball, KTLX).

Bachmann’s performance in the 2008 election is frequently characterized as “a close race that had no business being close” – in reference to the Republican-leaning tendencies of the district and the subsequent large sums of money that poured into her DFL opponent El Tinklenberg’s coffers after Bachmann’s infamous exchange on Chris Matthew’s Hardball program in mid-October.

However, a Smart Politics analysis of Bachmann’s 6th Congressional District since redistricting in 2002 shows that Bachmann was not simply fighting her own indelicate words, but a definite Democratic wave that has bubbled up in her district (just as it has statewide). In short, Bachmann deserves some credit for extending her political half life.

The 6th Congressional District is comprised of 24 House Districts – 12 completely located in the 6th (14A, 15A, 15B, 16B, 19A, 19B, 48A, 48B, 49A, 51A, 52A, 56A) and 12 partially located in the 6th (13A, 14B, 16A, 17A, 18B, 32A, 49B, 51B, 52B, 53A, 56B, 57B).

· In 2002, only 2 of these 24 districts, 15B (St. Cloud) and 51B (Blaine) elected DFL Representatives to St. Paul.

· In 2004, 3 districts voted DFLers into office, adding 14B (Cold Spring, St. Joseph etc.) to the list.

· By 2006, however, in Bachmann's first victory to the U.S. House, 7 DFLers were elected – adding Representatives from Districts 51A (Blaine), 53A (Lino Lakes), 56A (Lake Elmo, Woodbury), and 56B (Woodbury).

· In 2008, Republicans took back HD 51A with Tim Sanders' victory, but lost two more districts along the way: 16A (Baldwin) and 49B (Andover, Coon Rapids), bringing the DFL total to 8.

Moreover, the average Republican margin of victory in these 24 state legislative districts has decreased in every year since redistricting: from 13.4 points in 2002 to 12.9 points in 2004, to 6.9 points in 2006, to 6.5 points in 2008.

Seats by Party and Republican Victory Margin in House Districts Comprising the 6th Congressional District

Year
DFL seats
GOP seats
GOP MoV
2008
8
16
6.5
2006
7
17
6.9
2004
3
21
12.9
2002
2
22
13.4

GOP Margin of Victory in House District Races Comprising the 6th Congressional District, 2002-2008

District
2002
2004
2006
2008
% 6th District
13A
35.1
40.0
37.2
24.9
19.6
14A
18.6
12.8
12.0
-0.6
100.0
14B
19.1
13.5
11.8
-1.7
98.8
15A
18.1
7.5
5.3
-8.4
100.0
15B
3.7
-9.8
-11.3
-19.5
100.0
16A
22.5
18.3
20.1
12.7
34.6
16B
30.4
17.2
19.2
17.7
100.0
17A
26.7
8.4
9.5
12.3
15.2
18B
29.1
15.1
13.9
13.1
44.1
19A
29.9
14.1
11.8
9.1
100.0
19B
34.2
19.5
19.9
16.1
100.0
32A
38.8
23.5
25.6
20.1
4.8
48A
22.9
10.9
11.6
11.8
100.0
48B
18.5
4.3
4.4
4.1
100.0
49A
29.1
15.2
16.7
14.2
100.0
49B
25.5
6.6
11.0
3.2
16.5
51A
13.4
-1.7
-1.5
-8.1
100.0
51B
-4.0
-15.9
-13.6
-23.9
17.7
52A
21.0
6.3
8.7
5.8
100.0
52B
21.9
0.6
-1.7
-4.7
77.0
53A
19.8
3.0
4.7
1.2
57.3
56A
21.5
-1.6
-3.2
-6.0
100.0
56B
23.6
0.3
0.5
-6.0
95.2
57B
16.8
-9.0
-10.0
-9.4
9.9
Note: Final column denotes the percentage of voters in the respective House District that vote in the 6th Congressional District.

In addition to what was happening down the ballot, the partisan winds of change Bachmann was fighting in her district can also be measured by comparing the 2004 and 2008 presidential races. In 2008 Barack Obama nearly sliced John Kerry’s 14.4-point deficit in the 6th CD in half – losing by an 8.7-point margin to John McCain (53.3 to 44.6 percent).

True, Bachmann is a lightning rod for the left. But while it is convenient for some in the media and blogosphere to blame her tightly contested 2008 race against Tinklenberg on her not-so-politically-savvy Hardball comments and her unflinchingly conservative ideology, this DFL-trending data suggests the 6th was going to be a single-digit race regardless (though probably closer to 6 or 7 points than the 3 points by which Tinklenberg eventually lost).

The 6th Congressional District vote in 9 of the 24 house districts has increasingly tilted more Democratic in three consecutive elections dating back to Mark Kennedy's second to last term in 2002: in districts 13A, 14A, 14B, 15A, 15B, 18B, 19A, 52B, and 56A.

Only two house districts have given Bachmann an increasing margin of victory in 2006 and 2008 compared to the margin Kennedy received in 2004: districts 17A (Saint Francis) and 48A (Elk River, East Bethel).

As a result, the number of House Districts in which the DFL U.S. House candidate carried the 6th CD has increased from 1 in 2002, to 5 in 2004, to 6 in 2006, to 10 in 2008.

GOP Margin of Victory in 6th Congressional District Races by State House District, 2002-2008

District
2002
2004
2006
2008
% 6th District
13A
21.3
33.9
39.1
16.9
19.6
14A
2.0
24.1
7.9
10.1
100.0
14B
33.8
-4.1
-14.8
-34.3
98.8
15A
14.3
26.5
9.1
7.4
100.0
15B
-18.3
-28.1
-30.1
-34.7
100.0
16A
20.1
8.6
2.7
-0.4
34.6
16B
16.2
23.3
16.3
27.5
100.0
17A
6.5
6.0
1.1
9.6
15.2
18B
13.4
11.4
5.9
17.5
44.1
19A
21.3
16.9
16.5
5.1
100.0
19B
2.3
20.2
21.3
21.8
100.0
32A
35.4
27.0
29.6
32.5
4.8
48A
18.7
15.9
11.9
20.2
100.0
48B
14.5
25.9
21.2
30.4
100.0
49A
28.5
26.1
20.7
18.7
100.0
49B
15.8
12.4
8.8
-13.4
16.5
51A
9.5
10.5
-6.0
4.6
100.0
51B
-21.7
-13.3
-19.4
-23.9
17.7
52A
22.1
18.8
10.1
34.2
100.0
52B
17.6
3.3
3.8
11.3
77.0
53A
15.0
8.6
-0.3
-4.7
57.3
56A
3.9
5.9
-1.3
-5.6
100.0
56B
18.7
9.2
-2.3
-10.1
95.2
57B
10.3
20.9
13.5
14.5
9.9
Note: Final column denotes the percentage of voters in the House District that vote in the 6th Congressional District.

Bachmann’s success in defying the upward DFL-trend in her district can also perhaps partially be attributed to the ‘Ted Stevens Media Backlash Effect.’ Once upon a time, just shy of Election Day, public opinion polls showed the vast majority of Alaskans were not of the mind to reelect GOPer Stevens (or at-large Republican Representative Don Young). Until, that is, the national media told them how they were going to vote (or should vote).

Likewise, the anti-Bachmann media blitz that permeated the Twin Cities metro area and the national stage in the few weeks leading up to the election became to be seen, to some voters, as an attack on the 6th District itself (and certainly on those residents who had voted her into office in 2006). Combine that with the fact that Bachmann’s comments on Hardball probably were not seen as that controversial to many 6th CD voters, and one has a backlash in the making.

Alaskans responded by easily reelecting a U.S. Representative into office who was at the periphery of the state’s corruption scandal and by nearly reelecting Stevens, a convicted felon, to the Senate.

Minnesotans in the the 6th District responded in kind by holding back the Democratic wave just enough to successfully defend Bachmann’s seat, and, perhaps, their own pride.

As such, despite the fact that many on the left go to bed at night praying Bachmann's recent comments on KTLX regarding the country 'running out of rich people' will be the comment that leads to her undoing, they are going to be sorely disappointed. Bachmann has shown she can not only dust herself off the ground, but she can so do immaculately, even in the face of a Democratic windstorm.

And if there is any movement back to the GOP in partisan ID, Bachmann should win reelection by a much more comfortable margin in 2010.

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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.