Conventional wisdom says President Barack Obama would love to run against an "extreme" Republican candidate, such as Representative Michele Bachmann. With unemployment up again and likely to rise further as Obama tries to outdo Republicans on government spending cuts, I’m not convinced that a big campaign war chest will be enough to get the president re-elected.
Watching Bachmann’s solid introductory television commercial and highlights from her recent Iowa tour, I challenge those who write her off as “unelectable,” especially in this economy. Ad video, transcipt, analysis and more Bachmann campaign news are after the jump.
Bachmann started running the 30-second spot "Waterloo" on July 7:
[Footage of Waterloo along Cedar River, words “Waterloo, Iowa” on screen, guitar strumming in background; after a few seconds Bachmann speaks directly to the camera]
Bachmann: As a descendant of generations of Iowans, I was born and raised in Waterloo.
[view pans over framed family photos of Bachmann with her husband and children, goes back to Bachmann speaking to camera as she says “I know that we can’t keep spending”]
As a mom of five, a foster parent and a former tax lawyer, and now a small business job creator, I know that we can’t keep spending money that we don’t have. That’s why I fought against the wasteful bailout, against the stimulus.
Footage of Bachmann speaking to audience, her voice-over continues: I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.
Bachmann speaking to camera again, smiling: I’m Michele Bachmann, and I approve this message.
The last few seconds of ad show these words on screen: Ames Straw Poll August 13
Michele Bachmann for President logo
The unifying choice that will beat Obama
Approved by Michele Bachmann. Paid for by Bachmann for President.
Hard to find fault with that commercial, even if it does hit on a pet peeve for me (they mean she’s the choice who will beat Obama). She speaks confidently, the images are appealing, the music isn’t distracting, and the script is safe. I like that she reads the script herself, instead of using a generic-sounding voice-over, like former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s latest Iowa commercial. The Bachmann campaign claims this is a “substantial” ad buy; I don’t know details on the media markets where it is running.
Bachmann’s absolutist stand on the debt ceiling is somewhat illogical, since she supports the tax cuts that are a big reason we keep raising the debt ceiling. She did vote against the bill extending all the Bush tax cuts last December, but not because continuing unpaid-for tax cuts would massively add to the national debt. Bachmann objected to that deal because it also included extensions in unemployment benefits.
In fairness to Bachmann, I couldn’t find any record of her voting for a debt ceiling increase. Since she was first elected to Congress in 2006, debt limit increases have been passed “indirectly” by the House (2007) or tucked into other bills: the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus package). Roll calls show Bachmann opposed all those bills, and also voted against a December 2009 measure to raise the debt ceiling again.
Bachmann may have more “false” ratings from Politifact than anyone else, but she can truthfully tell Iowa Republicans that she hasn’t helped raise the debt ceiling.
It takes chutzpah for Bachmann’s campaign to present her as the “unifying” candidate who will beat Obama. Like her friend and ally Steve King, she is often considered one of the more polarizing voices in Congress. And just about every state and national opinion poll I’ve seen suggests that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney registers is the most electable Republican presidential candidate.
But who am I to say Bachmann isn’t unifying? Her commercial and rhetoric on the stump has something for both major parts of the Republican base. Bashing the stimulus, the bailouts, and “spending money we don’t have” appeal to fiscal conservatives. Social conservatives will like her uncompromising votes against Planned Parenthood funding, the way she talks about her five children and 23 foster children, and her personal testimony to church-goers. Yesterday Bachmann became the first candidate to sign the lengthy “Marriage Vow” offered by Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader group (four-page pdf here). Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chair, State Senator Kent Sorenson, was one of Vander Plaats’ strongest supporters during the 2010 gubernatorial primary.
Bachmann spent the July 4 weekend in Iowa, and here’s a short video of her July 2 speech in Marshalltown:
Again, a solid performance. She talks about her Iowa roots (seven generations in this state) and her family and childhood connection to Marshalltown. She gets the crowd involved chanting “one-term president.” She talks about her plans in Iowa, introduces her husband and youngest daughter, talks about her kids and great foster kids (“that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?”). She mentions the veterans in her family (father in Air Force, step-father in Army, brother in Navy). She talks about her past work as a tax attorney, saying she understands how “devastating” high taxes are to businesses like the Marshalltown Maid-Rite. She talks about her experience as a “job creator” in the small business she and her husband created. She bashes “Obamacare,” calling for bringing health care costs down instead. She reminds the crowd about the upcoming Ames straw poll, promising them a bus ride, food and a good time if they will come to the straw poll to help her out.
I like how she pays tribute to the “reasonable, fair-minded voice” that she learned growing up in Iowa. She doesn’t mention that her family were strong Democrats, but never mind. As Bachmann’s campaign gains strength, rival presidential candidates may depict her as too extreme to win the election. Emphasizing her “reasonable” views pre-empts that argument. And truthfully, there’s not a big ideological gap between her and the rest of the GOP presidential field. They also oppose Obama’s economic policies, health insurance reform, and abortion rights. She doesn’t come across as some wild-eyed fanatic on camera or in person.
As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Bachmann poses a bigger threat to Pawlenty than anyone else competing in the Iowa caucuses.
Pawlenty has more state legislator endorsements than anyone else in Iowa, but Bachmann is closing that gap with five public supporters in the Iowa Senate. In the past week her campaign added Senator Brad Zaun as statewide co-chair and picked up endorsements from Senators Nancy Boettger and Mark Chelgren. Outside Iowa, Zaun is best known as the weak candidate who couldn’t capitalize on the 2010 Republican wave to beat Representative Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third Congressional district. But Zaun has a strong base in Republican vote-rich Urbandale, a large suburb of Des Moines where he was elected mayor before winning two terms in the Iowa Senate.
Pawlenty told Des Moines Register editors and reporters yesterday, “this week is the first time that I’ve campaigned in earnest in Iowa.” I doubt anyone will buy that, and given the pressure on Pawlenty to show some Iowa progress this summer, I expect him to take some direct shots at Bachmann before long. His latest television commercial draws an unspoken contrast by presenting himself as a candidate with “results, not rhetoric.” One of his endorsers published a Des Moines Register editorial depicting Bachmann as “not ready” to lead, on the grounds that she didn’t manage office staff or constituent communications well.
Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Bachmann officially opened her Iowa campaign headquarters in Urbandale on July 9. WHO-TV reporter Dave Price caught a classic slip of the tongue: while phone-banking for Bachmann, Brad Zaun told one person he was calling on behalf of “Congressman Boswell.”
SECOND UPDATE: At her office opening on July 9, Bachmann discounted fears that refusing to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a default. She put the debt ceiling debate in a family context that will probably resonate with Iowa Republicans:
Bachmann told a crowd of more than 100 supporters gathered in her Urbandale office’s parking lot that she’s never voted to raise the debt ceiling during her time in Congress and won’t this time around, either.
“It’s time for tough love,” she said, to a burst of crowd applause. […]
“Now you want to talk about a dysfunctional family, take a look at the United States Congress and what they’re doing on the debt ceiling,” she said. “In our family, my husband and I would’ve taken that credit card, we would have chopped that baby up and we would have said sorry, kids, there’s no going out to eat. Sorry, no new clothes. We’re going to live within our means.”
[…]Turning behind her, Bachmann pointed to one man holding an infant.
“You see that little baby right here? That’s who’s going to suffer,” she said. “Are we really that selfish that we’re going to continue to have a party and let this beautiful baby pay for it?”
I doubt many economists share Bachmann’s view that refusing to raise the debt ceiling wouldn’t cause many problems. I also disagree with the “family budget” analogy, because taking on long-term debt (like a home mortgage) doesn’t automatically mean a family’s not living within their means, and having the government pull back on spending now is one of the worst things we could do for the economy. But I’m not her target audience. My hunch is that caucus-goers will respond favorably to this “tough love” talk.
Moreover, Bachmann’s analogy comes across as more natural than Pawlenty’s latest forced attempt to be plain-spoken:
“We’ve had Barack Obama campaigning to be president for the better part of three years, with all of his soaring rhetoric, with all of his broken promises, with all of his nonsense. I mean, he’s like a manure spreader in a windstorm.”
In other Bachmann-related news, the FAMiLY Leader revised the preamble to its “Marriage Vow” to remove this passage:
“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President,” read the preamble. […]
A Bachmann spokeswoman said earlier Saturday that reports the congresswoman had signed a vow that contained the slavery language was wrong, noting it was not in the “vow” portion.
“She signed the ‘candidate vow,’ ” campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said, and distanced Bachmann from the preamble language, saying, “In no uncertain terms, Congresswoman Bachmann believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible.”
It wasn’t clear whether Bachmann had read the “slavery” language in the preamble, but Stewart later added Bachmann “stands behind the candidate vow – which makes absolutely no reference to slavery.”