Some people call her divisive. Others call her infamous.
Just dont call Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) anti- American.
The Congresswoman made some controversial comments on a cable talk show Friday afternoon in which she wondered whether Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), his wife and other Members of Congress were anti-America. Bachmanns remarks have dramatically transformed her re-election bid, which was once considered reasonably secure, into a competitive race just two weeks before Election Day.
Former State Transportation Commissioner El Tinklenberg (D) is challenging Bachmann in the conservative district north of the Twin Cities. Tinklenbergs campaign appeared to have trouble getting traction, especially when it came to fundraising, until recently.
But since Bachmanns interview on MSNBCs Hardball, Tinklenberg reports that he has raised an eye-popping $810,000.
On Fridays broadcast, Hardball host Chris Matthews, a former top aide to the late Speaker Tip ONeill (D-Mass.), asked Bachmann whether she thought many of her colleagues in Congress might hold anti- American viewpoints.
What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look, Bachmann said during the interview. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would be would love to see an expose like that.
The brouhaha was further amplified by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, after taping Meet the Press on Sunday, pointed to Bachmanns comments as an example of Republicans harsh campaign tone this election. Powell crossed party lines to endorse Obama on the Sunday talk show.
This business of, for example, a Congressman from Minnesota whos going around saying lets examine all Congressmen to see whos pro-America or not pro-America we have got to stop this kind of nonsense, pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity, Powell said. And so that really was driving me.
The consequences of Bachmanns remarks proved nothing if not profitable for Democrats. Tinklenberg announced Monday that he had raised at least $810,000 in the three days since Bachmann went on Hardball almost twice as much as his best fundraising quarter of the campaign.
Tinklenberg campaign spokesman John Wodele said that thanks to the influx of cash, the campaign has bought $260,000 in radio and television advertisements its first TV ad buy of the cycle.
Before Congresswoman Bachmann said Sen. Obama may have anti-American views, two polls had the race at a statistical dead heat, Wodele said. However, over the weekend we narrowed the money gap, too, while voters have seen their Congresswomans extreme and divisive views, and we have the resources to make sure they know they have a real alternative in El Tinklenberg.
Tinklenberg wasnt the only Democrat who benefitted from Bachmanns comments, which she later attempted to back away from during a local news program by saying they were misunderstood. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used footage of Bachmanns Hardball appearance in a fundraising e-mail that brought in more than twice as much as last weeks regular fundraising e-mail, according to the committee.
The DCCCs independent expenditure arm also plans to put $1 million into the race for Tinklenberg. He was only recently added to the committees Red to Blue list of promising candidates running in Republican-held districts.
In interviews after the Hardball appearance, Bachmann said that her comments were misunderstood and that Matthews brought the term anti-America into the conversation. A statement from her campaign blamed the media for spinning her remarks out of context.
This has all been a political spin version of the childrens game of telephone, read Bachmanns official campaign statement. The Congresswoman never called for some House Unamerican Activities Committee witch hunt but thats the spin that the liberal blogs are running with. She never called all liberals anti-American, but thats what the media hype has turned it into.
While the damage might have been done in the media and in the campaign bank accounts, its not clear yet how voters will respond to Bachmanns comments. After all, this not the first time that Bachmann has put her foot in her mouth, Minnesota political commentator Barry Casselman said.
I think that its sort of Michele Bachmann-esque, Casselman said. Shes very famous or notorious for making very partisan statements that most other politicians wouldnt make. The question remains is [have] her supporters and constituents in the 6th district become accustomed to this and find this acceptable, or will that be going too far?
Casselman and at least one Republican with close knowledge of the district believe this might not put Bachmann in the electoral danger zone. According to the Republican, who asked not to be named, Bachmanns comments came too late for Tinklenberg to rebound in such a conservative district, which President Bush carried by 15 points in the 2004 White House election.
But the GOP source said Bachmanns comments could do more to hurt her in Congress with her colleagues, provided that she is re-elected.
Hey, when she comes knocking on the door saying Will you work with me on this anti-tax bill?, thats what she should be concerned about, the Republican said. She lost more credibility with her colleagues and other Members of the House than in the 6th district of Minnesota.