Even as Rep. Michele Bachmann said she had been misunderstood, strong reaction Sunday to her claim that Barack Obama "may have anti-American views" brought an unexpected shakeup to the race in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District.
News reports, political TV shows and websites buzzed with chatter about Bachmann's comments Friday on MSNBC's "Hardball."
On Friday, Bachmann was asked by host Chris Matthews whether she believes that Obama may have anti-American views. She replied, "Absolutely. I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views."
The exchange took on national scope Sunday as former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced the Republican's comments.
Meanwhile, Elwyn Tinklenberg, Bachmann's DFL opponent, said Sunday that her remarks about Obama triggered a surge of contributions to his campaign that will allow him to wage a more vigorous media campaign.
Tinklenberg's campaign said that in the 48 hours after Bachmann's remarks, $640,000 from nearly 13,000 people came in to his campaign. That is more than all donations he received during the entire third quarter.
His campaign now will air more TV ads than it had planned this week. National Democrats say they will help.
"We're certainly going to be able to be on TV a lot more than we originally thought was going to be possible," Tinklenberg said. "We are confident that we are going to be able to go step for step with her the rest of the way."
At the end of September, Bachmann had about $1 million more to spend than Tinklenberg. It's unknown how much she and the National Republican Congressional Committee will raise in the final weeks before the election. The party, which recently has concentrated its efforts on saving embattled incumbents, has been spending money on ads in the Sixth District.
In Washington to endorse Obama on Sunday, Powell referred to Bachmann's call for a media inquiry of Congress, saying "we have got to stop this kind of nonsense."
Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is scheduled to campaign in the Twin Cities today for Ashwin Madia, who is running against Republican Erik Paulsen in the Third District. Pelosi said Bachmann's suggestions that members of Congress should be investigated for possibly being un-American "dishonors the office she holds" and "discredits the person who is speaking it."
Bachmann was unavailable for comment Sunday afternoon. But her spokeswoman, Michelle Marston, said that the money going to Tinklenberg is too late to improve voter awareness of him and that Bachmann's reputation is well-established.
"Michele Bachmann, people either love her or they hate her," Marston said. "But they all know who she is, and they all have an opinion about her."
On Sunday morning, Bachmann had softened her stance on Obama. Appearing on WCCO-TV, she said, "I feel his views are concerning, and I'm calling on the media to investigate them. I'm not saying that his views are anti-American. That was a misreading of what I said."
On Friday, on MSNBC's "Hardball," Bachmann asserted that Obama has a close connection to 1960s radical William Ayers. FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan effort by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said, "There's ... no evidence of a deep or strong 'friendship' with Ayers."
Bachmann also said on MSNBC, "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."
Those remarks prompted a wave of chatter on the Internet. On www.startribune.com alone, hundreds of readers had posted reactions to her remarks by Sunday afternoon.
Said Marston: "We've gotten many calls and e-mails. Some of them are just plain nasty, and some of them are overwhelmingly supportive."
A strategic error?
Bachmann has the benefits of incumbency and a district that has been reliably Republican, the kind of realities that might dissuade a Republican politician from taking risks on TV.
That appearance "was a big mistake," said Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on congressional politics. "What she managed to do is generate the animosity of a lot of liberals and Democrats out there. For people who are looking how to spend their last dollar -- figuring that the presidential contest doesn't need it -- they might just send more money [Tinklenberg's] way."
Smith said tough prospects for Republicans nationally and Tinklenberg's endorsement by the Independence Party had already given him a better chance than Democrats have had in the Sixth District in past elections. But now, "with this national attention and the money rolling in, I would think they would have the chance of making him really quite competitive," he said.
The largely negative reaction to Bachmann's comments was magnified because Matthews' show has a large liberal audience, Smith said.
"She took a big risk by choosing to appear on that venue," he said. "It's not at all clear to me why she thought that was a reasonable thing to do."
Bachmann has made national news several times with controversial comments. For instance, she has said that more oil drilling and similar measures would bring "immediate and lasting relief" and push gas prices down to $2 a gallon, and claimed Iran planned to partition Iraq and turn part of it into a terrorist training ground. Her office later said that remark was misconstrued.
Staff writer Mark Brunswick contributed to this report. Patrick Doyle • 651-222-1210