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Is a Franken-Bachmann Showdown on the Horizon?

Is a Franken-Bachmann Showdown on the Horizon?

By Scott Conroy - February 8, 2013

Politically, 2012 was not exactly a banner year for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

In January, the Tea Party-backed Republican finished a distant sixth in the Iowa presidential caucuses, garnering just 1,223 more votes than she did in winning the Ames Straw Poll less than five months earlier.

Bachmann ended her White House bid the next day and set to work on winning a fourth term in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District. For that effort, she netted a massive, small-donor-fueled $14.4 million, breaking the House race fundraising record that she had previously set in 2010.

Though widely expected to win comfortably in her state’s most conservative district, Bachmann instead eked out a less-than-5,000-vote victory over Democratic businessman Jim Graves, who had made it close in part by raising doubts about his opponent’s commitment to her district.

But despite that presidential fade-out and close call back home, Bachmann is again being mentioned as a candidate for higher office -- this time as a potential challenger to first-term Democratic Sen. Al Franken in 2014.

Bachmann has not signaled publicly her interest in such a race, but her advisers do not deny that she might consider it down the road.

"Congresswoman Bachmann is focusing her time and energy on serving her constituents and holding listening sessions across Minnesota's Sixth District, not on 2014,” Bachmann Communications Director Dan Kotman said in a statement to RCP.

Franken won his Senate seat in 2008 after prevailing in a recount, besting GOP incumbent Norm Coleman by 312 votes. The Democrat has spent the last four years seeking to shed his image as a “Saturday Night Live” jokester and liberal provocateur by keeping a relatively low profile on the national stage.

For the most part, that strategy appears to be working. In a Public Policy Polling (D) survey conducted last month, 52 percent of state voters approved of Franken’s job performance, while 42 percent disapproved.

In the same poll, Franken also topped Bachmann by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin in a hypothetical general election matchup -- an early indication of the uphill climb the congresswoman would face in a statewide race.

Still, Bachmann would almost certainly be a strong contender to win a contested primary, and political opponents have underestimated her strengths in the past.

“I think if Bachmann decided to run, she’d be the favorite to win the nomination,” said Minnesota political analyst Larry Jacobs. “Whether she can win statewide is a bigger question and the question she will be thinking hard about.”

Despite her reputation as a conservative flame-thrower with a penchant for attention-grabbing gaffes, Bachmann is widely regarded among Minnesota political watchers as a savvy operator. And no one doubts that she could again raise enormous sums of money in a personality-driven general election battle that would draw tremendous attention outside the state.

But the congresswoman’s more immediate concern -- holding onto her House seat -- might cause her to think twice about mounting another underdog bid.

The House Majority PAC, one of the Democrats’ biggest outside spending groups, announced last week that it planned to target Bachmann’s House seat in 2014. And so, given her difficult 2012, she may now be inclined to follow a more cautious path.

“Michele Bachmann understands she’s probably more conservative than the state, so she needs to figure out a way that a candidate who’s more conservative than the state can win,” Jacobs said. “It’s not impossible, particularly if the Democrats have a fall in turnout, like in 2010.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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