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Democrats: Give Bachmann ‘El

Tinklenberg, Seen as Strongest Challenger, Prepares Second Run

National and Minnesota Democrats think they have the ideal candidate to challenge freshman Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) next year.

He is the same “perfect fit” for the suburban and exurban 6th district that they found in 2005 — though he never made it onto the ballot come Election Day.

Elwyn Tinklenberg (D), the former Blaine mayor who served as transportation secretary under then-Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), is preparing to make a second run for Congress, according to sources in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

In the previous cycle, Tinklenberg was the first Democrat to declare his candidacy for the open seat in April 2005. National Democrats immediately embraced him, noting that his strong support of the Second Amendment and opposition to abortion rights melded perfectly with the socially conservative district northwest of the Twin Cities.

The 6th district gave President Bush 52 percent of the vote in 2000 and 57 percent in 2004.

But after Tinklenberg had been running for almost nine months, child-safety advocate Patty Wetterling (D) decided in January 2006 that she would try her luck again in the 6th district rather than press on with a Senate bid.

Wetterling surprised political watchers when she managed to wrangle 46 percent of the vote against then-Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) during her first-ever campaign in 2004.

Though upset that Wetterling backed out on her promise not to run for the House again, Tinklenberg agreed to honor the endorsement that Democrats at the 6th district nominating convention bestowed on her in May.

Tinklenberg did not force Wetterling into a September primary, which he could have done given that the party endorsement is nonbinding, and ended his 13-month campaign after raising $373,212 with the help with national party leaders.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) hosted fundraisers for Tinklenberg before he dropped out of the race. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) donated to his campaign.

Now that Tinklenberg is considering another run, chatter that he is the best Democrat to seek the seat has begun anew.

“Mr. Hoyer thinks that Mr. Tinklenberg would be a good candidate if he chooses to run,” Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards said.

While party leaders understandably are hesitant to fully embrace Tinklenberg, given that he has not made a final decision, it is clear his entrance into the race would be welcome.

“I think he’d be a great candidate; he probably could have won last time but it took one more shot with Patty for people to realize that,” said one Minnesota Democratic insider, who did not want to be named.

Barry Casselman, a Minnesota-based national political columnist, said Democrats at the spring 2006 nominating convention were foolish to choose Wetterling over Tinklenberg.

“The only serious candidate to defeat Michele Bachmann right now is Elwyn Tinklenberg,” Casselman said. “It’s always possible someone else can emerge, but given the frequency of Congressional elections, it’s highly unlikely.”

Democratic polls in the 6th district consistently have found that the best profile for a Democratic candidate is a man who opposes abortion rights. The least palatable to 6th district voters are Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights.

Wetterling, who was strongly backed by the abortion-rights political action committee EMILY’s List, acknowledged when she declared her Senate candidacy that polling told her that she could not win in the 6th.

“The district remains the most conservative district in the state,” Casselman said. “It is pro-life and pro-gun and those who promoted Wetterling last time deluded themselves.”

The Democratic insider said Tinklenberg earned the respect of party activists by bowing out after the convention and may feel that he is owed another turn.

“He did a very gracious thing by not challenging Patty — it was a very polite loss” that really did not leave hard feelings, the source said.

But sources close to Tinklenberg said he will step aside for no one in 2008.

Tinklenberg, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, was in Washington last week making the rounds, according to several knowledgeable Democratic sources.

It was unclear if he met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or with Hoyer, but he intends to, the sources say.

Robert Hill (D), a Stillwater attorney and Air America radio host, threw his hat in the ring last week.

There has been talk that Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall and Tarryl Clark, a state Senate leader, might be interested as well.

The Democratic insider said that while they might make good candidates, Tinklenberg is better.

“Most of the other names that have been floated are just wishful thinking,” Casselman said.

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