Bachmann kicks up fundraising storm and Senate speculation

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) record-breaking fundraising is fueling speculation she is eyeing a run for the Senate in 2012 against first-term Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.).

Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben left the door open to a possible Senate run in a statement to The Hill. He said the congresswoman is focused on serving her constituents, but “nothing’s off the table for the future.”

Bachmann, a media-savvy conservative who has seized the mantle of the Tea Party movement, cruised to reelection in the midterms and reclaimed her 6th district seat with a nearly 13-point win over state Sen. Tarryl Clark.

Bachmann brought in an eye-popping $13.2 million during the campaign, shattering the previous fundraising record for House candidates and eclipsing even the totals for many Senate campaigns, which are typically more expensive to run.

Klobuchar, for instance, raised just more than $9 million for her successful Senate run in 2006.

Bachmann’s national media presence has helped her build a network of grassroots support that few lawmakers can match. Almost all of her record-breaking midterm cash came from individual donors.

The power and prestige of the Senate might have strong appeal to Bachmann. Already a leader in the Tea Party movement — she founded the Congressional Tea Party Caucus — the congresswoman is openly ambitious. She vied for a House leadership position shortly after the November election, only to drop out when it became clear she did not have enough support to win.

Tony Sutton, Chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said Bachmann would be a “very strong” challenger to Klobuchar.

“I think she’d be a very powerful candidate and could definitely beat Amy Klobuchar. She’s certainly got the fundraising horsepower, the political organization skills, and she’s a great spokesperson,” Sutton said.

Sutton said Bachmann’s war chest would be an asset if she looks to the Senate.

“A U.S. Senate race is a lot about fundraising, and there’s no doubt Michele Bachmann’s proven her ability to raise money. And the kind of money raised in her congressional campaign would, in a Minnesota Senate race, be more than enough,” Sutton said.

Headed into 2011, Bachmann still has just less than $2 million in campaign cash in the bank, according to FEC records. Klobuchar has close to $1.4 million.

Minnesota Republicans are already lining up behind Bachmann as their first choice to take on Klobuchar. Public Policy Polling (PPP) found 36 percent of Republican primary voters surveyed wanted the congresswoman to be their Senate candidate, followed by outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at 20 percent and former Sen. Norm Coleman at 14 percent.

But Bachmann would face a difficult battle against the incumbent senator. Klobuchar is popular with Minnesota voters, and polls of a potential match-up with Bachmann give the current senator the edge. PPP, for example, found Klobuchar leading Bachmann 56 to 39 in the hypothetical race.

Klobuchar spokesman Linden Zakula did not wish to comment directly on a possible challenge from Bachmann.

“The last election just concluded in our state and the senator believes that Minnesotans want their elected officials to get to work — not focus on the next election,” Zakula said. “The senator has spent the last four years working hard for the people of Minnesota, and that’s what she’ll continue to do.”

Kathryn Pearson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, said it would be a close race against Klobuchar and was certain Bachmann “would capture the Republican nomination” if she ran.

“I think it would be a competitive race. Both candidates are skilled fundraisers. Congresswoman Bachmann motivates donors both in Minnesota and across the country, and so she would raise more than enough money to get her message out,” Pearson said.

But Pearson cautioned that Bachmann could have trouble winning over independent voters in the state.

“It would be difficult for Congresswoman Bachmann, given her high-profile role in the Tea Party and as an outspoken conservative, to appeal to swing voters Sen. Klobuchar captured in 2006,” Pearson said.