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The vocal minority: Bachmann says rising profile helps district

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said she will continue granting national media interviews and attending large political events, such as a health-care rally she helped to organize last month, because that is how she can influence what happens in Washington. Staff photo by Don Davis.

Rep. Michele Bachmann said she is not in a good position to shape major legislation from within, so she is trying to be influential from beyond the halls of Congress.

In the middle of her second term, Bachmann is finding alternative ways to advocate a conservative philosophy she said is shared by the majority of her constituents. In doing so, the controversial congresswoman is drawing a level of attention - among conservatives and liberals -- unusual for a relatively new lawmaker in the minority party.

This year's health-care debate has helped to elevate Bachmann's profile. She called herself "one of the most vocal members of Congress in the House" opposing Democratic health-care reform and said serving as a spokeswoman for conservative positions is a good way for her to help her 6th District. The district includes Woodbury, eastern and northern Twin Cities suburbs and rural areas northwest to St. Cloud.

"At the macro level, the best thing I can do is advocate as strongly as I can for the issues that I believe will benefit the people of the 6th District and I believe they want me to advocate for," Bachmann said in a recent interview.

National attention

Bachmann is recognized far beyond her 6th District.

She is invited to national conservative events. She was at a Twin Cities conservative fundraiser last week with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She was involved with a recent Washington news conference opposing 9/11 terrorism trials in New York. She is a frequent guest of conservative cable television, appearing on the Fox News Channel as recently as Monday. She has been identified as a possible candidate for higher office, though she recently said she is ruling that out.

Bachmann has developed a "celebrity status" through her media appearances, and that has brought her a lot of attention, said Steve Smith, a 6th District resident and political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis.

"The political sentiment behind her appearances has been polarizing," Smith said. "Those who are liberal are absolutely astonished by her comments, which are inflammatory from their point of view, and conservatives rally to her defense."

Bachmann may have reached a new level of visibility last month.

During a cable TV appearance, she urged opponents of a Democratic health-care reform bill that she frequently describes as a "government takeover" of the health-care system to rally at the Capitol. A few days later, thousands showed up.

"We lost the (House) vote," Bachmann admitted, "but it changed the dynamic on Washington, D.C., because the staff and the representatives saw real people, real Americans, desperate to come to Washington, D.C., to get the attention of their representatives."

Bachmann has captivated conservatives, said Kathy Lohmer of Lake Elmo, who was among local Republicans who traveled to Washington for the rally.

"It was really amazing to see that many people who were that familiar with her," said Lohmer, a Minnesota House candidate.

'Different voice'

Bachmann has created problems for herself in some media appearances. In an October 2008 cable television interview she questioned whether Barack Obama was "un-American." She later said she was set up in the interview, but the episode fired up Democrats just weeks before the election.

"That turned into a big deal and it was a real difficulty to have to overcome before the election," she said.

Bachmann beat Democrat Elwin Tinklenberg by 3 percent.

At least two Democrats want to oust her in the 2010 election - state Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud and Maureen Reed, a physician and former lieutenant governor candidate who lives west of Stillwater.

Bachmann would do more for the district if she sought moderate solutions to issues, Reed said.

"I don't think we need more people locked in their polar positions," Reed said, adding: "The position of just saying 'no' ... isn't the best role for an elected official to have."

Bachmann said her priority is to help constituents navigate the federal government, a basic task of any legislative office.

Beyond that, though, she said it makes sense to speak out on issues because it is difficult to pass legislation as a Republican in a Democrat-controlled House. She cited three legislative accomplishments - two bills and a resolution -- in her first two-year term and said recently that she is not sure whether she has had another one this year.

Bachmann said she has no plans to shy away from the political spotlight as another election year nears.

"Mine has been a very different voice from what Washington has been advocating for the last three years, and I think that has elevated me as a target for the liberals in Washington, D.C," she said. "But I know without a shadow of a doubt I am doing exactly what the people of the 6th District sent me to do, and they appreciate it."

Wente can be reached at swente@woodburybulletin.com

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