MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - They are both from Minnesota but Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s combative style seems to be scoring better than the Midwestern nice guy approach of former governor Tim Pawlenty in the Republican presidential race.
Bachmann, a third-term Congresswoman from a St. Paul suburb, announced her presidential intentions during a New Hampshire debate. She then proceeded to bash President Barack Obama’s health care reforms and raise doubts about U.S. support of Libyan rebels.
Pawlenty, meanwhile, stumbled. He made “Minnesota Nice” and demurred from criticizing Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney directly, admitting later that he should have been more forceful.
A national poll of Republican voters after the debate found Bachmann had surged into second place at 19 percent behind Romney. Pawlenty was languishing in single digits at only six percent, the Rasmussen Reports poll showed.
“She’s come a long way, baby,” Alice Stewart, spokeswoman for Bachmann, said on Friday. “That’s pretty significant momentum.”
Home state voters will get a chance to see both on Saturday when they appear separately in Minnesota at a Right Online conference sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
Pawlenty has bided his time and respected his Republican elders, attracting big campaign donors and posing as a moderate. Bachmann is a firebrand who has bucked the party and mostly draws smaller contributions.
“They couldn’t be more different in terms of style and political substance,” said Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican Web site.
Both Pawlenty and Bachmann are focused on the first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses in neighboring Iowa early next year. In Iowa, drawing support from the party’s right wing and evangelical Christians can make or break a presidential candidate.
Pawlenty chose Iowa to announce his candidacy last month, hired more than a dozen staffers and consultants, and has made 16 trips to the state since 2009. Bachmann was spent her early childhood in Waterloo, Iowa.
Pawlenty’s appeal is to mainstream Republicans, much like former Massachusetts governor Romney. Bachmann’s support is from grassroots activists much like that of Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee whose presidential intentions are unclear.
“They’re talking to different groups of people,” Robinson said.
Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson said Pawlenty courted him, but he chose to lead Bachmann’s Iowa effort. “He’s a decent enough guy but I wanted a full spectrum conservative. I didn’t get that from anyone other than Michele,” Sorenson said.
In a pitch perhaps aimed at Tea Party supporters, Pawlenty unveiled an economic agenda heavy on tax cuts that eliminated some tax deductions and government subsidies.
Criticized for lacking charisma on the stump, Pawlenty has vowed to speak hard truths, as Bachmann seems to do naturally.
“She gets people fired up,” said Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.
Pawlenty emphasizes he is the one candidate who can unite the party. “I can put the whole coalition together,” Pawlenty says in his matter-of-fact, gentle way.
The two also have contrasting fundraising approaches. Pawlenty has hit up big-money donors in Dallas, Chicago and Minneapolis -- raking in $200,000 or more per event. Bachmann focuses on small donors with 75 percent of contributions to her political action committee less than $200. Still, Bachmann’s “money bomb” drive last month raised $250,000 in two days.
Pawlenty contemplated a run for governor a decade ago, but top Republicans said they wanted someone else. So he explored a bid against Democratic U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, but then-Vice President Dick Cheney told him to stand down.
Pawlenty grumbled about the “integrity of the process” but obeyed, and was elected governor in 2002.
By contrast, Bachmann does not seem to care what party insiders think. In a state contest, she wrestled the party endorsement away from the incumbent, thumped him in the primary and cruised to victory.
Some of Bachmann’s speeches have upset party leaders, including her unsanctioned rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January.
“The way they fight is very different,” said Steve Schier, a Carleton College political scientist in Minnesota. “Pawlenty has spent most of his time ... trying to govern, whereas Bachmann is a movement person crusading for a certain agenda.”
Editing by Andrew Stern and Greg McCune