U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s surprise decision to not seek re-election has produced a frenzy of speculation about who might seek the GOP nomination in Minnesota’s most conservative congressional district. At least a dozen names have been floated as possible successors to the four-term incumbent.
“I think you could have a big Republican cage match,” said Jennifer DeJournett, president of Voices of Conservative Women.
Among the state legislators mentioned as possible challengers: Sens. Michelle Benson, Mary Kiffmeyer and Michelle Fischbach, and Reps. Matt Dean, Peggy Scott, Tim O’Driscoll and Tim Sanders. Two of those potential challengers — Fischbach and Dean — don’t live in the district, but that wouldn’t disqualify them from running.
Benson said that she will need to consult with her family and will not be making a decision about the contest hastily. “Moms and dads and brother and sisters will have to be involved in this decision,” Benson said. “A congressional race and campaign is on a whole other level.”
Scott indicated that a similar calculation about the contest lies ahead. “If I do decide to run, it won’t be something I do lightly,” she said. “My daughter is a senior in high school next year and I don’t want something like this to ruin her senior year. There are a lot of things that will have to go into this decision for me.”
Other potential challengers in the ether: former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, former state Rep. Jim Knoblach, Iraq War vet and former U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hegseth, Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, former state Rep. Tom Emmer, who was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2010, and former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, currently president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.
“I’m focused on what I’ve got to do [as mayor],” said Kleis, who served in the state Senate from 1995 to 2005. “I haven’t really given it any thought one way or the other.”
Koch did not rule out a run. “It’s been a busy morning, overwhelmed by the response,” she said. “I don’t have anything other than that to say at this point.”
Krinkie, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 2006, is also not ruling out another bid. “I did this before, with not the result I desired,” Krinkie said. “You don’t always get a second chance, but this might be a second chance.”
GOP operative Michael Brodkorb argues that Emmer could play a decisive role in determining who ultimately gets the GOP endorsement given his strong base of support in Wright County, the district’s conservative epicenter. “I think the race has gone from one 800-lb gorilla, Bachmann, to another, Emmer,” Brodkorb said. “I think a lot of people will wait to see what he does.”
Emmer released a statement Wednesday afternoon indicating that he is weighing a run for the seat. ” Today I received many calls from strong supporters, Republican Party leaders, conservative activists and local elected officials throughout the District,” Emmer said. “As a result, I am strongly considering running for the open seat being vacated by our [congresswoman].”
DFL businessman Jim Graves, who narrowly lost to Bachmann in 2012, has already announced that he will be seeking the post again. Bachmann’s decision likely improves the GOP prospects for holding onto the seat. She consistently underperformed the district, which favors GOP candidates by 10 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. In addition, she has been beset by investigations stemming from her failed 2012 presidential bid in recent months.
“I think there are a great many Republicans who believe this will help our chances,” said veteran GOP strategist Gregg Peppin. “While they respect and admire Michele Bachmann for her conservative credibility, there’s many who believe this is the right thing for her and the right thing for the district and the right thing for Republicans.”
Briana Bierschbach, Charley Shaw and Steve Perry contributed to this post