When presidential candidates carry a Minnesota label

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2011 - 9:56 PM

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune

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There's so much to think about when one is campaigning for president. There's the hair, the tan, the tweets, the handshakes, the shakedowns, the sharp shots at Obamacare, the gentler jabs at one's intraparty rivals (but not so gentle that they go unnoticed).

Clearly, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann don't have time to think about the impressions of their home state that they leave as they stump around the country.

So I've been thinking about that for them.

Americans following the 2012 Republican presidential sweepstakes must marvel that Minnesota is such a wellspring of presidential ambition.

In the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Hubert, Clean Gene and Fritz put Minnesota on the nation's Democratic political map -- where it has reliably stayed during presidential elections ever since, if one overlooks the drubbing George McGovern took in 1972.

Americans may have wondered: Do they even have Republicans in Minnesota?

Yes, we do -- bright-eyed, telegenic ones. Those Minnesotans are a handsome people, folks must have said after watching the former Minnesota governor and the three-term member of Congress from the Sixth District during Monday's New Hampshire debate.

Youthful, too. Did you know that Pawlenty is 50 and Bachmann is 55, and they don't have a bit of telltale gray in their dark locks? (Well, not usually anyway. I thought Pawlenty looked a little fuzzy at the temples on Monday night -- especially right after Bachmann made her candidacy official.)

I've long maintained that cold winters slow the aging process. How about this as an advertising theme to boost Minnesota winter tourism, perhaps featuring a recognizable former politician? It would beat the commercial gig Bob Dole got a few years back.

The rap about Pawlenty is that he is boring, but that he tries to make up for it with action-movie-style videos and cutesy criticism of "Obamneycare."

Is that a reflection on Minnesota?

Well, Pawlenty may be like a Twin Cities suburb that sought to overcome its charisma deficit by borrowing some kitsch and arrogance from the Ghermezians of Edmonton. They had more than enough of both to spare when I met them in 1985.

Sadly for Bloomington, a lot of non-Minnesotans think the Mall of America is in Minneapolis. How could something cool be in Bloomington? Even though the mega tourist trap has been tucked into east Bloomington for almost 20 years, it doesn't quite fit.

I regret that Bachmann's well-publicized factual gaffes may suggest something unfortunate about the quality of Minnesota schools. In fact, Bachmann was educated in Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa, until moving to Minnesota in the eighth grade. (Cool the e-mails, Hawkeyes. You have fine schools in Iowa, too.)

Bachmann herself might shield Minnesota schools from errant reflection. I expect that her mantra between now and Feb. 6 will be "I'm an Iowan."

But Bachmann is also a Minnesotan. As such, she joins a list of colorful characters from the shoreline of the political mainstream that Minnesota has contributed to the national scene. Think Ignatius Donnelly. Gus Hall. Jesse Ventura.

Bachmann's presence in the race provides an instant rebuttal to anyone who might think, "Pawlenty can't help being boring. All Minnesotans are boring."

Bachmann is also an exemplar of Minnesota adaptability. When I first met her in 2000, she was an anti-Profile of Learning crusader.

Then she got to the state Senate and became an anti-gay-marriage zealot. Then she went to Congress and became an economic stimulus foe. Now she's vowing to make her bid for the presidency a mission to slay the "job-killing" 2010 federal health reform law.

Americans are probably wondering: How did a state that spawned someone with so much fighting spirit lose four Super Bowls?

A generation ago, candidate recruiters of both parties often lamented that Minnesota women weren't easily convinced to run for office. Many held back, I was told, because they didn't believe they possessed sufficient mastery of the issues.

Bachmann is proof of the Minnesota feminist movement's success in washing such hesitation out of the female psyche. She seems devoid of self-doubt and unperturbed when facts fail her. I'd rank her ambition level as high as that of any male politician I've covered -- save, perhaps, for one recent former governor.

As I said, Americans have to be thinking that something about this state's bracing air inflates political ambition.

Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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