Well, that’s awkward.
News that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is considering a presidential bid has not only sparked a mini media frenzy, but it’s rained on the parade of her home state colleague, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
On the eve of the release of Pawlenty’s memoir, “Courage to Stand” — the subject of an upcoming media blitz that has the all but announced a White House candidate booked on a number of national shows including “Good Morning America,” “The View” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”— the Bachmann trial balloon has the GOP governor and his backers gamely insisting that it’s no big deal at a time when they expected to be reveling in warm publicity surrounding the book rollout.
Pawlenty himself downplayed Bachmann’s possible candidacy issue with a bland response that read as if it were offered through clenched teeth.
“Well, it’s a free country,” he told Politics Daily on Thursday. “Anyone can run that’s over the age of 35. I have respect for Michele Bachmann. I’ve had a cordial and positive relationship with her.”
Other Pawlenty supporters were careful to remain respectful and supportive of the lightning rod conservative, but quickly dismissed the idea that there wasn’t enough room in the race for two Minnesotans — or that Bachmann would have an effect on the Pawlenty’s chances.
The governor’s former chief of staff Charlie Weaver, who has known Bachmann since high school, said he doubted she would abandon her platform in the House.
“Just because they’re from the same state shouldn’t make a shred of difference,” said one source who supports Pawlenty.
“Tim Pawlenty is the real deal,” said Steve Sviggum, former Speaker of the Minnesota House and Pawlenty’s budget commissioner. “He is the real thing. He’s not just a rock star or a flash in the pan.”
Vin Weber, co-chair of Pawlenty’s political action committee Freedom First, said he hopes Bachmann will turn out to be an endorser — not a competitor.
Weber cautioned that all possible GOP contenders — not just Pawlenty — needed to be wary of Bachmann’s upcoming trips to early presidential states like Iowa.
“Her enthusiasm in Iowa is not because she’s from Minnesota,” said Weber, dismissing the notion that Bachmann’s status as a House member from a neighboring state gives her an advantage in Iowa over other Republicans. “It’s because she has a strong appeal to the grass-roots conservative base in the country. It’s wrong-headed to think of her as drawing from Pawlenty because she’s from Minnesota. Michele’s appeal comes from the fact she has become a leader of the tea party movement.”
Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton, who was careful not to align himself with either politician, warned that no prospective candidate should overlook her prospective candidacy. “Anyone who underestimates her does so at their own peril,” he said. “She’s very savvy and smart.”
Bachmann and Pawlenty hail from different wings of the GOP, with Bachmann distinguishing herself as a tea party favorite and Pawlenty more closely aligned with the business-minded conservative wing. They briefly crossed paths in the state Legislature. More recently, the governor joined a Sarah Palin-headlined rally for Bachmann at the Minneapolis Convention Center in April. Pawlenty and Bachmann also did an anti-abortion fundraiser together one month earlier.
Because of their familiarity, Bachmann’s testing of the waters was a serious slight to the governor, said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
“Michele Bachmann delivered a double slap across Pawlenty’s face,” said Jacobs. “In 24 hours, she’s gotten more attention and more electoral traction than Pawlenty’s been able to generate in two years of work. Bachmann has stepped all over Pawlenty’s launch of a book tour and supplanted him as the lead senior Republican in her state.”