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ST. CLOUD - Appealing to business leaders and party faithful for support, Rep. Michele Bachmann retreated Tuesday from her televised claim that Barack Obama "may have anti-American views," but also asserted that "a trap was laid" that prompted her remark.
While Bachmann was on the defensive, her political problems invigorated the supporters of her DFL challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg at a packed town hall meeting in Blaine Tuesday night, as the race gained national attention and Tinklenberg reaped extra campaign dollars.
"Thank you, Michele!" one man shouted, setting off gales of laughter.
Bachmann, a Republican, defended herself during campaign stops at a lumber company, at a GOP campaign storefront and before the Rotary Club in St. Cloud. In her talk to the Rotary Club, she blamed Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's "Hardball," for setting the stage for her controversial comments about Obama.
"Sometimes you make a decision about going on a show ... I probably should have said no to Chris Matthews."
"I had never seen his show before," she said. "I probably should have taken a look at what the show was like ... A trap was laid, but I stepped into it.
"I made a misstatement. I said a comment that I would take back."
Matthews on Friday asked Bachmann whether she believed that Obama may have anti-American views. Bachmann replied: "Absolutely, I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views."
But in her address to the Rotary in St. Cloud, Bachmann said: "I did not, nor do I, question Barack Obama's patriotism ... I did not say that Barack Obama is anti-American nor do I believe that Barack Obama is anti-American."
Democrats and some Republicans have criticized Bachmann's MSNBC comments, which included her call for the news media to conduct an "exposé" on the views of members of Congress to "find out are they pro-America or anti-America."
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell cited that remark as "nonsense" while endorsing Obama over the weekend. More than $1 million in contributions have poured into the campaign coffers of Tinklenberg, his campaign said, since Bachmann's appearance on "Hardball."
Debating the impact
While Bachmann told the Rotary luncheon crowd of 100 that she didn't question Obama's patriotism, she added: "I'm very concerned about Barack Obama's views. I don't believe that socialism is a good thing for America."
Except for some local television interviews, this was Bachmann's first formal public appearance since the Friday interview. She appeared before a business group generally supportive of GOP candidates in a city where many voters share her opposition to abortion.
In a brief question-and-answer session following Bachmann's speech, local business leaders asked her about taxes, the $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street, allegations of voter fraud and transportation concerns in the district.
How much impact -- and of what kind -- Bachmann's remarks will have on the election was a matter of debate among some Rotary members.
"I'm a staunch Republican supporter of hers, but I think it's going to be a factor," said Don Watkins, 72, a retired business owner. "When you look at the money the Democrats are pumping in, it's going to have an impact, no doubt about it. Whether it will cost her the race or not, I won't venture."
As for the merits of Bachmann's earlier concern that Obama may be anti-American, Watkins said, "I get a lot of e-mails on the subject, a lot of it's pretty negative regarding Obama. There's ways to check out information, but I don't have time to do it."
Also at the Rotary meeting was 46-year-old Joyce Brenny, who runs a trucking company. She said she doubted that Bachmann's comments on Friday are "going to upset the apple cart. She really has a heart for small business."
Later, Bachmann went to the Mathew Hall Lumber Company and met owner Loran Hall, who talked about taxes and how the economic downturn was affecting his business. He also voiced support for her in the controversy over her remarks.
"You are 100 percent right," Hall said. "I appreciate it. We're running up against socialism."
At the GOP storefront, Bachmann told about 50 supporters that "an extra five phone calls, an extra five doors you can knock, it can make a difference. We need to be positive and upbeat."
One supporter, Karlene Gayle, 61, of Richmond, Minn., said she saw Bachmann's comments on "Hardball" and "I think she did a great job. She didn't say anything wrong." Gayle also agrees with Bachmann's assertion that she was trapped. As for Obama, "the man scares the life out of me," she said.
Lots of change
Tinklenberg has started using his new cash flow for his first television ad of the campaign. It is strictly biographical, introducing Tinklenberg to the district.
In opening remarks at his rally in Blaine, attended by 100 people, Tinklenberg said, "This thing has changed a lot in, let's say, the last three or four days ..."
"So much of the political debate tries to divide us into us versus them ... we've seen that contrast play out recently in this race," Tinklenberg said. "We are going to reject the politics of division and fear."
That was the extent of Tinklenberg's reference to his opponent in his 15-minute introductory remarks, which focused instead on his record as Blaine's mayor and his tenure as the state's transportation commissioner during the Ventura administration.
Constituent questions focused not on Bachmann but on such issues as international trade, energy policy, job creation and the recent government bailout.
But the subject of Bachmann's controversy came up again at the end of the event.
"Did you send Michele Bachmann a thank-you note?" one man hollered.
Staff writer Bob von Sternberg contributed to this report. Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210