Is Michele Bachmann Dipping Her Toe In Minnesota Governor Race?

Michele Bachmann was being Michele Bachmann this week, firing up a crowd of Republicans in rural Minnesota with a speech blasting immigration and insinuating a Somali-American cop who shot a white Australian woman in Minneapolis might have done so for “cultural” reasons.

Right-wingers, meet red meat. It was a Trump-like performance from the former Congresswoman from Minnesota’s 6th District.

Twin Cities media who covered the event did their duty after the speech at the Waconia American Legion Club and asked Bachmann whether she was considering a run for governor in 2018.

No, Bachmann dutifully answered.

One well-regarded political scientist in the state isn’t convinced she won’t.

Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota was a guest on my 970 WDAY radio show Friday and offered that Bachmann might be “testing the waters” for a run at the governor’s mansion. Popular incumbent Democrat Mark Dayton will not seek re-election, leaving the race wide open on both the Republican and DFL side.

“What caught my eye is that she was clearly channeling Donald Trump,” said Jacobs, adding that he heard the “ethnic nationalism” that came to define the Republican president’s campaign in 2016 when he defeated Hillary Clinton.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Bachmann referred to Mohamed Noor, the Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Justine Damond last week, an “affirmative-action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges.” That’s when she insinuated Noor might have shot Damond for cultural reasons.

“This is a message that was tailor-made for Trump supporters in Minnesota. Remember, Donald Trump came within one and a half points of beating Hillary Clinton in Minnesota this past November,” Jacobs said. “There is tremendous support for Donald Trump’s anti-immigration message, she has a tremendous network of donors, she’s probably the biggest name so far that has emerged in the Minnesota gubernatorial discussion.

“She’s come out with this message that’s aimed and crafted to excite Trump supporters. I take it seriously.”

It’s also worthy to note the forum at which Bachmann made her comments. She was the keynote speaker at a forum for Republican governor candidates, organized by the Carver County Conservative PAC. Bachmann could make her comments knowing announced candidates (and others who may not have announced yet) would hear them.

State Rep. Matt Dean and former gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who lost to Dayton in 2014, are the best-known of four announced Republican candidates. House Speaker Kurt Daudt is also expected to run.

“Michele Bachmann is a smart, cagey politician and I think people tend to underestimate her. My view is she’s kind of probing, trying to get a feel for what the pool of Republican candidates looks like and whether anybody is in her space,” Jacobs said. “She laid out a challenge to the candidates. She said she’s not running but she’s interested in seeing Trump’s message brought to the campaign and she’ll be watching. To me, that’s a wide-open door.”

There is a belief by some, even in the Republican Party, that Bachmann might have burnt out her support with GOP voters. She has intense support among her core voters, but her last re-election to the U.S. House in 2014 took millions of dollars and she barely won in a stridently conservative district. That might have taken some shine off her ability to be elected.

Again, Jacobs says, don’t underestimate her. The GOP field will be crowded and all she has to do is get the most support, not a majority or even a plurality, to advance to the general election.

“She has a solid group of loyal supporters who will bring energy and devotion to her. Let me ask you: Who is the other Republican candidate who can say that? Not Kurt Daudt. Not Matt Dean at this point. Not Jeff Johnson,” Jacobs said. “She has name recognition, a pretty substantial donor network and a message that is tailored to the conservative, Tea Party base of the Republican Party.”

Gov. Michele Bachmann? In the world in which Donald Trump is president, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.