Supporting Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid wasn’t necessarily an easy decision for David FitzSimmons.
While the three-term Republican congresswoman would seem a natural choice for FitzSimmons, who chairs the Republican Party in her home 6th District, he was squarely in the Ron Paul camp during the 2008 election and worked for his campaign. In addition, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was pushing hard for the nomination before his poor showing at the Ames straw poll and rapid withdrawal from the race.
“I made sure I looked and thought about all of the issues and the people involved,” FitzSimmons said. “One is my congresswoman, but another person was my former governor. That made things a little bit difficult to maneuver.”
But now that he has decided, FitzSimmons is doing all he can to get Bachmann elected president. FitzSimmons made rounds of calls to Iowans on her behalf before the Ames straw poll last month and traveled to Iowa cities by bus during the event to bring Iowans out to the straw poll. Last week FitzSimmons stood dutifully in the Republican Party of Minnesota booth at the State Fair to sign up fairgoers for Bachmann email blasts.
He’s not the only Republican Minnesota politico who is lining up behind a presidential candidate. Some legislators have already declared for Team Bachmann; others are continuing to size up the field. Some profess disenchantment with the GOP battle royale now that Pawlenty is out of the mix. Regardless, many expect a larger-than-usual number of Minnesota politicos to attach themselves to GOP presidential campaigns in 2012.
“I think you will see a lot of activity in Minnesota,” said former Congressman Vin Weber, a political consultant. “There is no governor’s race this next time, and so far the [U.S.] Senate race hasn’t heated up a lot, so I think a lot of people who want to get involved in politics will flock to the presidential race.”
Bachmann faithful emerge
GOP Rep. Peggy Scott admits that her work for Bachmann’s presidential bid has been “pretty minimal,” but the native Iowan has been doing what she can to work her connections in the state to help out her fellow female Minnesota lawmaker.
In addition to a stint collecting email addresses at the State Fair, Scott will be making phone calls to editorial boards in Iowa near her and her husband’s hometowns. Scott said she also plans to work her connections at Iowa State University and with several Christian groups in the area.
“My first time inside a political campaign organization was when [Bachmann] ran for Congress for the first time,” Scott said. “She has a real rapport with people, and I believe she has the right message and direction for this country.”
Scott is not the only legislator endorsing Bachmann’s ambitions.
At the tail end of a Republican House news conference for “Reform 2.0,” freshman GOP Rep. Ernie Leidiger took a moment to note that he was endorsing Bachmann for president. Moments later his House Republican colleague Steve Drazkowski quietly added that he, too, was a Bachmann supporter.
Scott says freshman GOP Rep. Kathy Lohmer is a strong supporter of Bachmann’s, and Sen. Warren Limmer is also said to be a firm advocate for the former state senator. In addition, Minnesota native Andy Parrish (who played a key role in Bachmann’s 2006 victory over DFLer Patty Wetterling and more recently served as her chief of staff in Washington) left her office in June to work on the presidential campaign as Iowa director.
Hard to ‘switch gears’
But Bachmann’s list of supporters among the ranks of Minnesota legislators and GOP campaign veterans pales in comparison to the support enjoyed by Pawlenty while he was still in the race. In June, the former governor released a list of more than 100 Republican heavy-hitters in Minnesota who were among his supporters. About 20 legislators populated the list, including House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel.
Now that Pawlenty is out, most of his backers are keeping their distance from the other presidential candidates. GOP operative Ben Golnik, a Pawlenty supporter and key Minnesota campaigner for John McCain in 2008, is staying out of the race for now, as is former Pawlenty chief of staff Brian McClung, who was also assisting on his presidential campaign.
“I think a lot of Pawlenty supporters were really devoted to him, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy for them to just switch gears and support someone else in the race,” said GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo, a longtime Pawlenty supporter who worked as his “computer guy” during his first run for governor. Garofalo is staying neutral for now, but he likes Paul’s push to reform the country’s monetary system. (Paul is an avid supporter of the gold standard.) Garofalo adds that he “reserves the right” to change his mind and endorse a candidate closer to Election Day.
For FitzSimmons, there are a few less awkward encounters now that Pawlenty is out of the race. “I think it makes things a little less touchy with people,” he said. “Not that a Pawlenty supporter automatically becomes a Bachmann supporter by any stretch.”
However, according to a Republican close to the campaigns, one former lawmaker wants that to be the case. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer has been calling Pawlenty supporters to try to persuade them to throw their weight behind Bachmann, the source said. Emmer could benefit if Bachmann’s bid for president is fruitful; he has been one of the top names mentioned as a possible candidate to replace her should she leave behind her 6th District congressional seat.
Romney, Perry support growing
Weber was the first Pawlenty supporter to make an official switch to another presidential campaign. For Weber, Mitt Romney was a natural choice; he had volunteered for his presidential campaign before.
“I never concluded that I didn’t like Mitt Romney,” Weber said. “I concluded that another guy who I knew for 25 years and was my governor for eight years had a claim on my loyalty. I think Romney is a great guy; he has the capacity to restore some confidence economically in our country. A big part of our problems right now are because people don’t have confidence in our leadership.”
Weber thinks there will be a substantial Romney effort in Minnesota that will develop over time. In the past, GOP bigwigs like Brian Sullivan, Jack Meeks, Evie Axdahl and GOP Party Chairman Tony Sutton have been on Romney’s side. Weber said he imagines that Meeks, who worked as a co-chairman on Romney’s Minnesota statewide steering committee in 2008, will again support him for president. (Meeks could not be reached for comment.)
Romney’s support from Minnesota politicos in 2008 was also strong. Among the members of his state steering committee that year were House Majority Leader Matt Dean, Rep. Linda Runbeck, GOP operative Chris Tiedeman, House GOP staffer Bill Walsh and GOP attorney Tony Trimble.
“Romney did win in the caucus here, and that was even late in the game,” Weber said. “He had a good organization in Minnesota.”
However, one 2008 supporter is not going to be involved in his campaign this time. Runbeck said she will not endorse or work for any presidential campaign in this cycle. “There is usually nothing gained by sticking your neck out, not that it’s a big deal,” she said. “They don’t need us to be involved, and in a way I was involved because I needed something to do. As far as being a legislator and publicly endorsing someone, I made mistakes already in the past and burned bridges, and I don’t really want to do that this year.”
GOP operative David Strom, who worked on communications and research for Emmer’s gubernatorial bid, is keeping his options open but says he is leaning toward supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s bid for
“This election is going to be about jobs, and [Perry] has a good story to tell about jobs, and it’s also a conservative story to tell about limiting government to create jobs,” he said. “A lot of the criticisms that are going to be lobbed at him will not stick.”
If Strom does decide to throw his support behind Perry, he would like to take on an official role working for the campaign in Minnesota. He also expects more Minnesota pols and operatives to come out and support candidates like Perry and Romney as time goes on.
“It’s not fair to assume that because you’re Minnesotan, you’re going to be rooting for the home guy or home girl,” he said. “Familiarity can breed discontent.”