Races of the Week September 18-25

Minnesota’s 6th U.S. House District

Bachmann vs. Tinklenberg

No sooner was the ink dry on her certificate of election in 2006 than Republican Michele Bachmann was destined to have to struggle to hold onto the House district she had just won. A strong, outspoken conservative who took Minnesota’s 6th District by a margin of 50% to 42%, Bachmann was a natural to have a Democratic bull’s-eye target on her back come ’08. A pro-lifer who opposes abortion under all circumstances except to save the life of the mother, a tax attorney who jumped at the chance to sue the IRS, a champion of local education and charter schools who still calls for abolishing the Department of Education — Bachmann is a target, all right.

After voting her good-as-Goldwater conservative views in Congress for two years, the 51-year-old swashbuckler is back on the campaign trail. Democrats linked arms early around Elwin Tinklenberg, former mayor of Blaine, Minn., and state commissioner of transportation under Reform Party Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Tinklenberg’s attacks on the congresswoman are predictable. As she put it, “He’ll never say he favors abortion, just that ‘Bachmann’s against choice’ or that he would not work to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Bachmann also says that she has signed and lived up to a pledge never to vote for a new tax or tax increase. Tinklenberg, she points out, has not only refused to sign the same pledge but oversaw higher taxes as mayor of Blaine.

As in many U.S. House districts these days, the debate in Minnesota’s 6th District increasingly focuses on the issue of energy independence. Tinklenberg takes the Obama line opposing more drilling. Bachmann, however, not only embraces both more drilling and exploring new kinds of energy, but also pursues both causes with vigor. Earlier this year, the Minnesotan jetted with nine House colleagues to Alaska, where she actually toured the proposed drilling site in ANWR (the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge).

“My conclusion and that of my colleagues was that if we removed regulation and started drilling, oil would be flowing in ANWR within three years,” said Bachmann, whose schedule in Alaska included a meeting with Gov. Sarah Palin (before Palin’s explosion onto the national scene). “And if we don’t do something, the oil we are already getting from Prudhoe Bay is going to dry up and we’ll be in bigger trouble than we are now.”

Bachmann returned home with even greater passion for the cause of increased drilling and appeared on Larry King Live, the BBC and Fox News to discuss it. She co-sponsored the “No More Excuses” legislation that included offshore drilling, ANWR, and exploring new sources of energy.

The contrast between the candidates in Minnesota’s 6th District is vast. Not only on issues, but also in their approaches to issues are they poles apart. Tinklenberg criticizes, and Michele Bachmann is a doer — and a congresswoman of action.

New York’s 13th U.S. House District

Straniere vs. McMahon

The so-called “experts” on politics were unanimous in their conclusion about New York’s 13th District (Staten Island-Brooklyn) after Republican Rep. Vito Fossella announced he wasn’t running again. With Democratic leaders settling on City Councilman Michael McMahon as their candidate and Republicans having an exasperating time recruiting a nominee (one candidate they settled on suddenly died), the consensus was that the last district in New York City to send a Republican to the House would fall in line and, after 28 years, send a Democrat.

But the political “know-it-alls,” as eventual Republican nominee Bob Straniere puts it, “don’t know it all about Staten Island and Brooklyn. With 450 of the 600 precincts in Staten Island and the rest in Brooklyn, this is one of John McCain’s best districts in New York. George W. Bush carried the 13th easily (55% of the vote) and the McCain-Palin ticket will do even better. And my opponent and I both have records that I can’t wait to contrast!”

During 24 years in the New York State Assembly, Straniere proudly opposed tax increases across the board. On the council, opponent McMahon, he points out, “supported an entry fee for people who work in Manhattan and that is lethal to folks who commute from the outer boroughs.”

The GOP hopeful (who additionally carries the second ballot line of the New York Conservative Party) also emphasizes that “my opponent takes the Obama-Biden line on abortion and energy. I’ve always been pro-life and I’ve made two trips to Alaska and say we should move on ANWR. My opponent takes the same line on both issues as Nancy Pelosi, who has contributed to his campaign.”

For all the talk about his being a late entry or the second or third choice for the nomination, Bob Straniere, attorney and owner of a hot dog business, is a “street corner conservative.” He knows how to take a message through the avenues of Brooklyn and to the bungalows of Staten Island. And his message is clear: Michael McMahon is a liberal and Bob Straniere is a conservative. That’s been a winning formula before for Republicans in New York’s 13th District. With help for Bob Straniere from his fellow conservatives around the country, it can work again.

Arizona’s 1st District

Hay vs. Kirkpatrick

Before Sarah Palin, there was Sydney Hay — a fearless conservative who happened to be a woman with a knack for motivating fellow activists to volunteer on behalf of causes and candidates they believed in. As a radio talk-show host and president of the Arizona Mining Association, onetime schoolteacher Hay actively embraced controversial causes. She championed a harder line on illegal immigration, tax cuts, school choice, and natural resource issues such as mining, ranching, and farming. During her stint with the Mining Association, Hay helped launch a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. But in the same capacity, she also tried to pursue a fair balance between environmentalists and the business community.

Long active in Republican politics, Hay was an early supporter and campaign worker for Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl’s first race for the Senate in 1994. Most recently, she was the national campaign manager for California Rep. Duncan Hunter’s long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination — not necessarily because she felt Hunter could win, but because she and the Californian were soulmates on critical issues such as immigration.

Republican Rep. Rick Renzi has announced his retirement, and Hay is now a candidate herself. Having won the Republican primary over four opponents, the feisty businesswoman is being attacked by opponents as (you guessed it!) “too conservative” for Arizona’s 1st District.

Does Sydney Hay trim her sails or moderate her views? Not on your life. As she tells audiences, “I agree with just about every position that Sarah Palin takes — although I don’t know how to field-dress a moose!” (At that point, sportsmen in the audience raise their hands and offer to show the candidate how to do that.)

As for Democratic opponent Anne Kirkpatrick, she is “shockingly liberal,” says Hay. Referring to Kirkpatrick’s record in the state legislature, the conservative hopeful points out that “my opponent backed every tax increase and opposed every tax cut to come down the pike. She was also against parental consent on abortion and for tax-funded cloning — just the positions I assume you must take in order to get the support of [the rabidly pro-abortion] EMILY’s List.”

At a time when much of the national media has concluded that border security has faded as an issue, candidate Hay sharply disagrees. In her words, “When 90% of methamphetamines, an addictive drug that is devastating local communities, comes into Arizona from over the border, security is directly related to fighting the criminal element. My opponent is weak on border security. You know where I stand.”

Yes, we know where Sydney Hay stands. And if enough conservatives who appreciate that respond with support, she’ll be standing strong for their causes in Congress.