Scenario could also be best chance for 3rd party revival in Gopher State
With all apologies to those who believe any analysis of the 2012 presidential election is still too premature, a newly released Rasmussen poll measuring the job performance of some members of the Minnesota congressional delegation raises an interesting hypothetical scenario for the Gopher State's 2014 U.S. Senate race.
The Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely voters is the first to take the temperature of Minnesotans across the state regarding their views toward controversial 6th Congressional District Republican Representative Michele Bachmann.
Although she only represents one-eighth of the state in D.C., Congresswoman Bachmann notched a 51 percent approval rating from Minnesotans, with 45 percent disapproving of her job performance.
As a further sign of how much Bachmann has become a star within the Republican Party and increasingly visible to all Minnesotans (and the country) - aided by her frequent media appearances - only 4 percent of likely Gopher State voters did not have an opinion about Representative Bachmann's job performance, even though 87 percent of the state is not represented by her in Congress.
The Rasmussen poll, conducted on November 10th, also measured the approval rating of new U.S. Senator, DFLer Al Franken. A nearly identical 50 percent of likely voters approved of the job Franken is doing as Senator with 45 percent disapproving.
The double-take identical job ratings Minnesotans give Bachmann and Franken are further evidence of the schizophrenic nature of the Gopher State electorate (which has failed to elect a DFLer to the governor's mansion in nearly a quarter-century, but has the longest streak in the nation for voting Democratic in presidential elections).
Bachmann is one of the most conservative members of the U.S. House, and reviled by many on the left, while Franken is considered to be in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party (with a name that brings shivers to the spine of Minnesota Republicans, not to mention leading national conservatives, such as Bill O'Reilly of FOX News).
What is particularly interesting about the new poll results is that a higher percentage of the (Democratic-leaning) statewide electorate currently approves of Bachmann's job performance than the percentage of residents in the state's most conservative congressional district who voted her into office for a second term last November (46 percent).
Of course, Bachmann's viability as a statewide candidate in 2014 is likely contingent on her surviving the fierce, well-funded challenges by the DFL for her House seat in 2010 and, if she wins a third term, for her newly-drawn district after redistricting in 2012.
As for Franken, who won only 42 percent of the vote in his 2008 challenge of Republican Norm Coleman, he will face the task in 2014 of running with an actual record (although Coleman's camp made a strong effort last year to highlight (controversial) statements made by Franken prior to his becoming a Senatorial candidate).
And for those Minnesotans who thought the Franken-Coleman contest was particularly brutal, negative, and costly - consider what a Bachmann-Franken matchup would look like.
Although made out to be quite partisan by Franken supporters and the liberal blogosphere, Norm Coleman was actually one of the most ideologically moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate during his last four years in D.C.
As such, the ideological distance between Bachmann and Franken is much greater than it is between Coleman and Franken, and the troops would be even more fired up on both the left and the right if such a matchup would come about in five years.
As a result, this hypothetical Bachmann-Franken scenario would likely provide a serious opening for a third party candidate to make a strong run for the seat.
The Franken-Coleman battle enabled Independence Party nominee Dean Barkley to notch the largest third party vote in a Minnesota U.S. Senate election (15.2 percent) since the DFL merger in 1944.
Assuming the Independence Party will still have major party status three election cycles from now, a viable, moderate candidate could have a real chance to win over a good chunk of the state's independent voters (who comprise approximately 25 to 30 percent of the Minnesota electorate) as well as peel away conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans from the Franken and Bachmann camps respectively.
But it's not 2014 yet.
And, in the meantime, Minnesota will hold a little something called the 2010 gubernatorial election plus 16 U.S. House races and another U.S. Senate race in 2012. Those races should provide Smart Politics with plenty of news to keep 2014 (mostly) off the radar.
Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.