The Republican primary is only a few months old and a long way to go, but the first feud between GOP contenders has already begun. A Minnesotan affair between Rep. Michele Bachmann and the erstwhile governor of that state, Tim Pawlenty. Bachman and Pawlenty are both competing for the same socially conservative voters and both have staked their campaigns on a strong showing in Iowa, where Bachmann currently leads according to polls.
Heretofore, Pawlenty has been criticized as being too bland and timid on the campaign stump. But his campaign has changed strategy for fear that it may falter if Pawlenty remains standing silently in the back. It is increasingly apparant that Pawlenty has decided to toughen his tone against his opponents.
This elevation in rhetoric has mostly focused on Bachmann, who entered the race months after Pawlenty, but has quickly surpassed him in the polls. Bachmann is also known for her fiercely conservative and populist rhetoric, which plays well to the Tea Party for which Bachmann has long been a champion.
And in recent weeks a back-and-forth between the Pawlenty and Bachmann campaigns has played out. Pawlenty was first to criticize Bachmann on NBC’s Meet the Press: “I like Congresswoman Bachmann. I’ve campaigned for her, I respect her. But her record of accomplishment in Congress is non-existent.”
Bachmann responded on CNBC’s Larry Kudlow by noting that when she was elected in 2006, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then President Obama were in mood to consider any conservative legislation. In light of that her goal was to oppose the liberal agenda. She voted against President Obama’s health care reform law, for instance. And in a parting shot at Pawlenty added, “I didn’t work to implement cap-and-trade”, a reference to Pawlenty’s past support for the program unpopular with conservatives.
Shortly afterwards Pawlenty appeared to use Bachmann’s migraines revelation as cause to cast doubt on Bachmann’s candidacy and potential ability as president: “If you’re going to be president of the United States you’ve got to be able to do the job every day, all the time. There’s no real time off in that job.” The Bachmann campaign did not specifically respond to Pawlenty, but issued a letter from her Congressional physician describing her migraines as infrequent and under control.
Some bloggers have alleged that the Pawlenty campaign was behind the migraine story. Pawlenty has denied the accusation.
More recently still, Pawlenty’s campaign chief Nick Ayers hinted that Bachmann will eventually miss the mark. In an e-mail to supporters, after listing the governor’s record, Ayers ended the e-mail with a reference to Bachmann: “This doesn’t make great fodder for cable news but as more Republican primary voters start to tune in to the race, they are finding out that the Governor’s record and message will stand the test a brutal campaign. Other candidates’ records (or lack thereof), and plans for the future (or lack thereof) won’t.” (Politico posted the full e-mail).
The Bachmann camp quickly fired back and equated the rival candidate with President Obama. For Bachmann, it was the first time she directly attacked a Republican opponent.
To Pawlenty’s charge that Bachmann lacks experience: “Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government.”
To which Pawlenty campaign spokesman Alex Conant responded, “The truth is there is very little difference between Governor Pawlenty and Congresswoman Bachmann on their issue positions.” And added that Pawlenty has a record of accomplishments while Bachmann’s record is one of “giving speeches and offering failed amendments.”
Bachmann’s rebuttal: “We have very different views on government, very different views of the economy and also our backgrounds are different,” she said.
And now an Iowa radio host has stated that the Bachmann campaign has employed former staffers to find damaging material on Pawlenty:
An Iowa radio host questioned former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on a rumor that his campaign staff has been digging up dirt on Republican presidential rival U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The WHO host, Simon Conway, said he had evidence, which he didn’t present, that former interns for Bachmann were being contacted and asked to “go on the record with dirt” on her campaign.
Pawlenty said he didn’t know anything of the practice and said the accusations probably weren’t based on the whole story.
Weeks prior, Bachmann had stated that she wanted to avoid “negativity” in campaigning. Even putting aside the media speculation of Bachmann’s campaign digging up dirt on Pawlenty, the strategy of avoiding negative campaigning seems to have fallen aside now as the Republican primary ratchets up.