Michele Bachmann, the former U.S. representative from Minnesota and one-time Republican presidential candidate, said in a TV interview that she is mulling a political comeback by running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated Tuesday by Al Franken.
"I've had people contact me and urge me to run for that Senate seat. The only reason I would run is for the ability to take these principles into the United States Senate, to be able to advocate for these principles," Bachmann said, referring to the Christian conservatism that defined her political style.
"The question is, should it be me? Should it be now?" Bachmann asked, in her appearance on the "Jim Bakker Show" in late December. She did not answer the question, but spoke of what she described as the increasingly high personal toll of big political campaigns.
"The price is bigger than ever because the swamp is so toxic," Bachmann said, borrowing a campaign refrain from President Trump to "drain the swamp" of Washington, D.C.
Bachmann did not respond to a phone message left at her home on Tuesday. She served four terms in Congress from the Sixth Congressional District, from 2007 to 2014, and was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for president in 2012. She was a vocal supporter of Trump's candidacy, and remains one of Minnesota's most well-known Republicans.
On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will be sworn in to replace Franken, following her appointment by Gov. Mark Dayton. Smith has pledged to run for the remainder of Franken's term in a November special election; the seat will be on the ballot again in 2020, when Franken's term would have ended.
So far, the only other candidate to announce a run is state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another unsuccessful GOP candidate for president in 2012, is also seen as a possible candidate.
Bachmann would bring a committed base of supporters and a proven ability to raise significant sums from small dollar donors via a valuable and closely guarded mailing list.
"She has extremely high name recognition and a national fundraising base. So, there's some strengths there," said David FitzSimmons, who was a GOP state legislator in Bachmann's district and is currently chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who won Bachmann's seat when she did not run again in 2014.
Even now, Bachmann has $1.67 million in her old House campaign account that she could move into a Senate race.
Bachmann's shoot-from-the-hip style of conservative populism mirrors Trump's. Her ability to make news with a provocative tweet or Facebook post would be unparalleled in Minnesota politics.
FitzSimmons cautioned that Bachmann would also confront challenges: "Running statewide is a tough hill to climb, and there a lot of different constituencies that you have to piece together," he said.
Bachmann has long been a polarizing figure both in Minnesota and nationally. She was a champion of religious conservatives and a relentless critic of Obamacare and other policies of former President Barack Obama.
Democrats would be energized to stop her. They spent millions trying to unseat her from a solidly conservative House district that included the St. Cloud area and some northern Twin Cities suburbs. She became nationally known for statements that fact checkers found to be untrue, such as a claim in a nationally televised presidential debate that the HPV vaccine can cause mental retardation.
"Michele Bachmann is a national embarrassment. Her extreme views are dangerously out of touch with the people of Minnesota," DFL Chairman Ken Martin said.
He said her time in the U.S. House was "so focused on spewing hurtful rhetoric that she accomplished little more than humiliating our state."
Her presidential campaign, which briefly sparked the imagination of social conservatives, flamed out. Later, news of an FBI investigation surrounding the campaign broke into public view.
Two former aides to the Minnesota Republican told the Star Tribune in 2013 that they had been questioned by FBI agents from the bureau's public integrity section.
Central to the FBI inquiry were alleged payments to former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a top official in Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign who endorsed Rep. Ron Paul in the closing days of the 2012 Iowa caucus race.
Sorenson was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison last year, according to the Des Moines Register, after admitting to taking payments from the Paul campaign in exchange for the endorsement.
An independent counsel in Iowa concluded he had also taken payments from the Bachmann campaign.
Bachmann denied the allegations that her campaign paid Sorenson, but the issue is bound to come up should she make a run for the Senate.
Bachmann acknowledged the challenge of running as a conservative Republican given the current political climate.
"My husband and I aren't money people. We're just normal," she said, "If you're a billionaire, maybe you can defend yourself."
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042