U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, already a presence on the national stage, stunned the political world with news that she has raised $10 million for her reelection bid -- more than any other House candidate in the country has ever collected.
More than half of that -- $5.4 million -- has come just since July, in a race against DFL state Sen. Tarryl Clark that had already become the most expensive House contest in the country. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, in Minneapolis for a party luncheon, heralded the announcement as fresh evidence that Bachmann embodies the future of the Republican Party.
"I think she is one of those voices out there, thank goodness, who has made very clear what direction our party needs to go," Steele said, adding that Bachmann has "the style of leadership in these changing times that the American people are looking for."
Clark's campaign declined to release their numbers before Friday's reporting deadline, but said they will "set a fundraising record" for a congressional challenger."
In congressional fundraising circles, Bachmann's haul represents uncharted waters.
Records provided by federal election officials show that no congressional candidate has ever raised $10 million, though many candidates have not yet reported their totals for this quarter.
Bachmann's blunt style of politics and incessant attacks on Democrats in Washington over the past year have transformed her into a national hero of the Tea Party movement.
With Republicans hoping to take back the House after the midterm elections, Bachmann's powerful fundraising abilities likely won't go unnoticed in the next Congress if she wins reelection.
"Will Bachmann end up in the Republican leadership or chairing a powerful committee? She's certainly raised the money to ask for it," said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit advocate for open government.
Campaign finance laws allow Bachmann to spend the money on a future Senate or presidential bid, but she said in an interview Wednesday that she has no plans to do so. But she also said she hopes she won't have to spend it all before Election Day. "TV is very, very expensive. Radio and mailing and all the things that have to be done. It's very, very expensive," said Bachmann, who was elected in 2006. "We'll be prudent with it, but we'll do what we have to do."
Why so much?
Bachmann said she needs the money because national Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and president Obama are visiting Minnesota to pump up her opponent.
"You don't get much bigger than the president, the vice president, the former president and also the speaker of the House," Bachmann said while campaigning in Woodbury on Wednesday. "With that being so, I need to do what I need to do to raise the money that I can to get my message out too."
But those national figures have come to Minnesota mostly for other Democrats.
While Clinton did campaign for Clark last month, Biden stumped for gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. Obama will headline a rally this Saturday for Dayton. He and Pelosi will also do a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Democrat House candidates.
Despite Bachmann's insistence that she is a top target of national Democrats, the DCCC has not put any money into the Sixth District race.
Clark spokeswoman Carrie Lucking said they've played largely an "advisory" role in the campaign.
"Congresswoman Bachmann would like people to believe that she is the target of national Democrats," Lucking said. "She is not. However, she is the target of the voters of the Sixth District, to whom she needs to explain why they should send her back to Congress."
Bachmann's campaign reported receiving contributions from 80,000 donors, a staggering number for a congressional race. The average contribution was less than $50, according to the campaign.
A lot of that money comes from outside Minnesota, where many people learn about Bachmann through her near-constant media presence.
Edward Doherty, 75, of Dallas, gave to Bachmann for the first time this year because he supports her belief in smaller, less intrusive government.
"I think this election brought out a lot of people like me into doing things we've never done before," Doherty said. "If there were enough people like her in Congress, we wouldn't have the mess we have today, and we wouldn't have the all-intrusive government that Obama seems to be heading for."
Susan Altamore Carusi, a Mill Neck, N.Y., attorney, said she supports Bachmann partly because she and her husband can't have much effect in New York, a Democratic stronghold. "So we've identified candidates in other places where we think the potential exists that we can make a difference."