The firefight between Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann during Thursday night’s GOP candidate debate wasn’t the first battle of the Minnesota Civil War.
Pawlenty and Bachmann are expected to continue their intrastate feud Aug. 11 at the Iowa GOP Straw Poll in Ames.
Pawlenty, a former two-term Minnesota governor, is considered by many to be on the ropes now after failing to gain traction despite spending the considerable time spent wooing Iowa Republicans.
Bachman, on the other hand, has played her Iowa native narrative to draw large, enthusiastic crowds. She’s likely to be looking to land a knockout blow in the straw poll.
Although the “Minnesota Twins” are making a play for similar blocs of GOP voters, they are completely different personalities and candidates, Goldford said.
“Pawlenty is trying to make beige work for him, Bachmann is neon orange,” Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford said.
Pawlenty started out as a more establishment Republican, championing low taxes, lower spending, less regulation and a smaller, smarter role for government. Then he shifted gears to sound a more populist theme, to offer an alternative to the better-known and better-financed Romney.
“Then Bachmann zooms out of nowhere and forces Pawlenty to move back to the establishment argument,” Goldford said. “He’s been whip-sawed.”
Bachmann and Pawlenty put their longtime differences on display Thursday night in the Fox New debate at Iowa State University.
Given her failures to block laws in the U.S. House such as the health overhaul and the debt ceiling increase, Pawlenty said it’s wrong for Bachmann to consider herself a success.
“Leading and failing is not the objective.” Pawlenty said. “If that’s your record of results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”
Bachmann criticized Pawlenty for pushing an environmental overhaul similar to one proposed by Democrats, a mandate for health care coverage and for bigger government spending.
“That sounds a lot like Barack Obama to me,” she said.
It all sounds like a nasty family feud to former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Richard Schwarm of Lake Mills.
“I get a little bit of that because I’m six miles south of the (Minnesota) border, but it’s mostly what I read in the papers,” Schwarm said.
“They’re going at it and their supporters are getting pretty energized, too,” Schwarm said. “Those two are probably the campaigns looking most squarely at the other.”
The bad blood between Bachmann and Pawlenty isn’t something that started on the on the campaign trail in Iowa.
That might be because “Pawlenty thought that she was kind of a crackpot. He would roll his eyes when her name came up,” University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs said in a Pawlenty profile in The New Republic (www.tnr.com).
Democrat Roger Moe, who lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Pawlenty, told Shapiro “Tim Pawlenty is just seething over Bachmann. I bet they have to lock him in a room some days when he reads about her.”
Iowans have noticed.
“It seems like they hate each other,” Dean Snakenberg of Ottumwa told a Minnesota news reporter.
Pawlenty is relying on his grass roots organization in Iowa to turn out supporters, “which he definitely needs to do to boost his campaign,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at ISU.
Bachmann’s organization isn’t as strong, but Goldford said Christian conservative churches “are a ready-made organization for her.”
Adding to Pawlenty’s frustrations is that “he’s been doing all the right things, but it just hasn’t been showing in the polls,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa political scientist.
“A strong finish at the straw poll — first or second would be best, third would be OK — would be a bit of a surprise and would give his campaign some momentum,” Hagle said.
The straw poll may be make-or-break for Pawlenty, Goldford said. He needs to finish a close second to Bachmann “or the money will dry up.”
That’s one of the ironies of the straw poll, Goldford said: “It’s a non-binding, meaningless poll, but it has consequences.”
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