Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) surprise retirement announcement has boosted Republican hopes of keeping her seat, which had initially been a top Democratic target going into 2014.
“This is a bad day for the DCCC," said one national GOP campaign operative, referring to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"This is exactly the kind of seat Democrats need to win in order to win back the majority, and the only reason it was in play is because of Michele Bachmann. Democrats' chances of winning this seat just became very, very challenging."
Despite the deep red tint of the district, Bachmann won by little more than 4,000 votes last year.
A recent poll by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed her trailing her Democratic challenger Jim Graves in their upcoming rematch by two percentage points, a statistically tied race.
Graves insisted he’s not concerned about the potential of facing a stronger candidate in 2014, telling The Hill that he’ll bring a message identical to his 2012 campaign pitch to the table this time around.
“I always said I wasn’t running against Michele Bachmann, I was running for the people of the country, and that won’t change,” Graves said.
“It won’t be quite as much fun debating anybody but Michele Bachmann, but we'll have to do with whomever we've got.”
But it was a boon for Democrats, who used her as a successful fundraising foil and the focal point of prominent attacks — and it seems Democrats will continue to do so, despite her impending retirement.
Emily Bittner, a DCCC spokeswoman, said Bachmann's effect on Republicans in Congress would remain long after her retirement.
“Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party brand of extremism and obstruction have infected the entire Republican Congress, and her influence shows no signs of waning,” Bittner said in a statement.
“This Republican Congress will continue to turn off Americans of all political stripes because they’re using the Bachmann playbook: put politics before solutions. The American people will now watch Republicans in Congress compete over who can be the most extreme and most radical to take Bachmann’s place pushing forward their extreme agenda.”
Though Bachmann insisted in her retirement announcement that she has "every confidence that if I ran, I would again defeat the individual who I defeated last year," she had already gone on air with ads nearly a year and a half out from Election Day. The ads were an indication Bachmann was gearing up for what she knew to be a tough reelection fight.
Bachmann's problems were compounded by multiple ethics and federal investigations surrounding alleged improper payments to campaign consultants during her unsuccessful bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Despite her nearly $700,000 first-quarter fundraising sum, which put her at the top tier in fundraising in the House, Bachmann also faced an early barrage of attacks from Democratic groups like House Majority PAC and CREDO super-PAC.
With Bachmann out, Republicans have a number of potential contenders available to defend the seat.
Many of the same people who indicated interest in her seat in 2012, pending what looked like a potential retirement to run for president, have surfaced again.
They include former state Reps. Phil Krinkie and Jim Knoblach, former state House Majority Leader Matt Dean and Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah.
State Reps. Tim Sanders, David Fitzsimmons, Peggy Scott, state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, former state Rep. Tom Emmer and former U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hegseth, as well as St. Cloud Mayor Jim Kleis are all considered possible contenders as well.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Emmer and Krinkie, as well as former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, state Sen. Michelle Benson and former Minnesota GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge are potential contenders.
Graves and other Democrats speculated that Bachmann’s position in the polls may have informed her decision not to run, and have suggested that there may have been damning details about to emerge from the investigations into her presidential campaign.
But many of her former staffers said she was likely not dissuaded by Graves’s poll. Keith Nahigian, one of her presidential campaign managers, said Bachmann “doesn’t do stuff by the polls.”
“I don’t think she ever really set out to be a career member of the House,” he added.
Bachmann could now follow the path of a number of other retired House members and join a conservative news network, or work for a lobbying firm, or perhaps turn her own PAC into a 2014 force.
Her open-ended announcement, too, has sparked rumblings that she could launch a campaign against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Some Republicans believe Franken to be vulnerable going into reelection but he has yet to see a credible challenger emerge.
“Looking forward, after the completion of my term, my future is full, it is limitless, and my passions for America will remain," Bachmann said in her retirement announcement. "And I want you to be assured that there is no future option or opportunity, be it directly in the political arena or otherwise, that I won’t be giving serious consideration if it can help save and protect our great nation for future generations."
Scott Cottington, a Minnesota GOP consultant who has previously worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that the “threat of Michele Bachmann is probably a little stronger than the reality of Michele Bachmann,” and doesn’t expect her to run statewide.
Contenders for Bachmann’s seat will have to emerge soon. They’ll need to begin reaching out in the district to line up supporters for the state party convention, at which the party endorsement will be rewarded to a candidate vying for the seat.
Typically a number of candidates drop out of the race at that time, which is months before the primary. An endorsement offers the candidate who receives it a boost in the final months — though Minnesota Republicans still expect a handful of candidates to run through the primary.
Cottington said that the district looks safe for Republicans, “unless we nominate a serious knucklehead who is unelectable,” a problem that plagued the GOP in Senate races last cycle.
And with Bachmann’s high profile within the Tea Party, the conservative wing of the party could see fit to get involved, to protect one of the more conservative seats in the nation.
“Sure, [Tea Party involvement is] a concern, and they do come in and if they're going to spend some money they could make a difference,” Cottington said.
Candidates are just beginning to show an interest in the race, however, and no conservative firebrand has yet emerged.
Sivarajah said she’s giving the race “serious consideration,” and that her phone had been ringing all morning with supporters urging her to run.
“Her announcement this morning came as a surprise. It's not a decision that anyone would take lightly and I need to definitely give it some serious thought and visit with my family about it,” she said.
“These opportunities don’t come along often.”
Dean told The Hill he's "strongly considering" a run, and expects to have a decision within the next week.
"Even though it is a Republican district, it will be a contested district. We'll make sure that the seat stays, from my perspective, in the right party, and I think it'll be important to get up and running quickly to do so," he said.
He added that he's spoken to some Washington Republicans about the race, but has mainly been in contact with local activists in weighing his options.
Sanders, too, told The Hill he's looking closely at the race, but didn't have a timeline for his decision.
"I think a lot of folks up here were thinking that she might not run again, but this was very abrupt, and it very quickly put a lot of things into motion," he said.
Sanders said he had received numerous calls from friends and colleagues urging him to run, though he hadn't yet been contacted by the National Republican Congressional Committee about the race.
He has, however, reached out to staff and some members of the Minnesota delegation in Washington about his political future.
Though the deep bench of potential candidates offers the GOP an opportunity to front a stronger contender to defend the seat, it also opens up the possibility of a contentious, bruising primary that could potentially leave the Republican weakened going into the general election.
Sanders said the potential for a primary would play into his eventual decision, but wouldn't dissuade him from running.
"It certainly does affect the decision-making process. A lot of those names are friends and colleagues of mine in the House or Senate. We work together very well," he said.
Alex Lazar contributed reporting.
This story was originally published at 11:17 a.m.