In a sign that the 2012 presidential race is moving into a new, more discordant phase, Minnesotans Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty exchanged harsh words over their respective capacities to handle the economy.
Pawlenty, who, like Bachmann, has his White House hopes pegged to doing well right out of the box in Iowa, triggered the hostilities while on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Calling Bachmann’s record as an office-holder “nonexistent,” Pawlenty said, “We’re not looking for folks who just have speech capabilities. We’re looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion. I’ve done that, and she hasn’t.”
Interestingly, Pawlenty was using the same attack that many Republicans have tried against President Obama. The former Minnesota governor, who has been trailing in the polls despite his intense efforts in Iowa, has built a campaign theme around “results, not rhetoric.”
In response, Bachmann’s campaign issued a statement Sunday evening in which the three-term Minnesota congresswoman largely resisted assailing Pawlenty in return. Defending her work in the House, she cited her opposition to Democratic “cap-and-trade” legislation that would limit greenhouse gases, the massive 2008 Wall Street bailout, and the Democratic healthcare initiative.
On healthcare, Bachmann said she was “a leading voice.” “My message brought tens of thousands of Americans to Washington, D.C., to oppose ‘Obamacare.’”
She took one shot at Pawlenty, suggesting that he, like many Republicans, once supported the polarizing requirement in the law that Americans purchase health insurance.
Last week, Pawlenty hinted that he was targeting Bachmann, who polls say is surging in Iowa, making a veiled reference at a campaign event to a failed ballot initiative she backed to outlaw same-sex marriage, and suggesting that she has been ineffectual.
There’s good reason for it. Bachmann, more than anyone, has laid to waste Pawlenty’s early-season strategy, which was built around courting social and fiscal conservatives in Iowa in a bid to brand himself as the leading alternative to Mitt Romney, who isn’t concentrating on winning the Hawkeye State.
Instead, Bachmann, so far at least, seems to have filled that niche. With just a month until the critical Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, which will provide an instant snapshot of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the GOP field in the state, now appears to be the time for Pawlenty to go on the offensive.
A new poll conducted by the Iowa Republican website shows that Pawlenty has work to do. The poll, a survey of 500 likely Republican caucus-goers, shows Bachmann out in front at 25%, four points ahead of Romney, and 16 points ahead of Pawlenty.
The poll noted, however, that Pawlenty appeared to be gaining a small amount of momentum, comparing the results with a Des Moines Register poll conducted in late June that showed Pawlenty with just 6% of the vote.