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Published July 13 2011

Forum editorial: Minnesota nice gets no respect

Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann are giving “Minnesota nice” a bad name. The former governor and the congresswoman, both seeking the Republican Party’s nomination to run for president in 2012, are beginning to crank up the rhetoric regarding the fitness of the other. Pawlenty let fly a verbal punch on the Sunday NBC program “Meet the Press.” He said Bachmann’s record of accomplishment in three terms in the U.S. House is “nonexistent.” An objective reading of Bachmann’s record might find truth in Pawlenty’s remarks, but saying so with snickering disdain is not Minnesota nice.

Pawlenty’s apparent change of tactics comes after Bachmann all but stole the show a few weeks ago at a debate in New Hampshire. In a lineup of relatively uninspiring (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney) or damaged (former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich) middle-aged men, the charismatic Bachmann was the star. Pawlenty was there, too, but was not much noticed in the glare of Bachmann’s clever, headline-grabbing performance.

Less than a month ago, Pawlenty’s status was rising as an alternative to front-runner Romney. Pawlenty’s campaign seemed to be on track to propel him into at least the top five among the Republican field. But then tea party favorite Bachmann got in, and in days was neck-and-neck with Romney in Iowa polls. Pawlenty’s campaign was struggling in the single digits near the back of the pack. The Iowa straw poll next month and the later Iowa caucuses are important early tests of a candidate’s appeal to the party’s base.

In keeping with her take-no-prisoners tea party style, Bachmann responded to Pawlenty’s remarks by reminding her supporters that she led the fight in the U.S. House against President Barack Obama’s health care initiative. The health care bill became law, so it can be argued her fight failed. But for the tea party and her other fans she wins points for leading the charge.

She’s also distinguished herself on the campaign trail by stating the obvious: She’s not part of the good ol’ boys club. That remark surely was an oblique reference to Pawlenty, who, by most objective assessments, is in the club.

The abrupt shift from Minnesota nice to (pick a state) not so nice is the Pawlenty campaign’s concession to political realty. His fortunes began to sour when Bachmann got in. He was among the first to announce; she was among the last, so far. Yet the congresswoman leads the former governor in Iowa polls by huge margins. Pawlenty has to close the gap if his campaign is to remain viable. He apparently has decided that Minnesota nice won’t do it.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.