Politics & Policy

Will Bachmann/Pawlenty Fight Erupt?

Michele Bachmann said today that she thought Tim Pawlenty’s 2006 comment that he was “open to” an individual health-care mandate could prove problematic.

“I think it will concern the voters,” Bachmann told radio host Laura Ingraham.

Pawlenty defended his comments about the mandate to National Review Online last week, saying that he had twice rejected recommendations from his own health-care commission because they included an individual mandate and that he had only said he was “open to” a mandate out of courtesy to the commission members.

At the same meeting, Pawlenty also said, “I am not going to be the one who is criticizing in a negative way. I am not going to be the first one to throw the elbow. But I am an old hockey player. If the elbows get thrown, we will throw them.”

If he takes Bachmann’s comments as a elbow throw, the GOP primary could get a new, interesting dynamic: the dueling Minnesotans.

The two, who served together in the Minnesota state legislature in the early 2000s, haven’t been close political allies over the years, despite their similar conservative beliefs. 

Asked about Pawlenty’s presence in the race Tuesday, Bachmann told Fox News the GOP race could handle both of them. “Minnesota twins!” said the congresswoman.

But Politico reports that there may be tension behind the scenes:

A longtime Minnesota Republican operative who hasn’t taken sides but knows Pawlenty well and has a good relationship with Bachmann speculated that the former governor “would like to rip her lungs out right now.” “He has planned it out methodically for years,” the operative said. “To see her, in his mind, recklessly come in, in a slapdash fashion, and ruin, potentially, his plans makes him insane to even think about,” the operative said. …

A spokesman for the congresswoman referred questions about the relationship to her chief of staff, who didn’t return several emails and cell phone messages. …

Pawlenty dealt with Bachmann as little as possible while governor because she was difficult to work with, according to three former Pawlenty staffers. “We actually kept her at arms’ length because if you’re dealing with a bomb thrower, it was very precarious building this coalition of folks and earning the trust of the public,” said a conservative who worked in the state’s department of education when Bachmann and Pawlenty were at odds over the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law. “When that happens, you can’t afford to have a wrecking ball come in and mess up what you’re doing.”

Politico also reports that Bachmann backed another candidate, not Pawlenty, in the 2002 gubernatorial GOP primary. Another source of tension could be Bachmann’s public fight against Pawlenty’s 75-cent per pack cigarette tax in 2005 — a stand that cost Bachmann the ability to remain in state senate leadership.

If Bachmann enters, she and Pawlenty will be in a fierce fight for the Iowa caucuses, meaning that they’ll both have reasons — and enough history to provide ammunition — to try to hurt the other one’s chances with voters.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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