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Bachmann vs Pawlenty, Round 1

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Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) addresses a gathering of supporters to formally launch her campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in her childhood hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, last month. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes) After weeks of ignoring attempts by Tim Pawlenty to draw her into a back-and-forth over their respective records, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann unloaded on her home state’s former governor Sunday — comparing his record to that of President Obama.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Bachmann in a statement released by her campaign, taking Pawlenty to task over health care, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and cap-and-trade legislation.

“Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, ‘The era of small government is over ... The government has to be more proactive and more aggressive,’” said Bachmann. “That’s the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan.”

Bachmann’s decision to engage Pawlenty marks a major change in strategy for the Minnesota congresswoman. But is it a sign that she is worried about Pawlenty’s progress in Iowa in advance of the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll, or simply that she was fed up?

Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s campaign manager, insisted in an email to The Fix that his candidate “just [got] tired of [Pawlenty] taking cheap shots” and decided to respond. “Even if he’s at 2 percent in the polls, we are not going to let anyone take free shots at us.”

Pawlenty has been goading Bachmann for weeks as he seeks to make up ground against her in Iowa — a state seen as a must-win for both candidates’ chances in the 2012 presidential race.

Pawlenty’s main attack on Bachmann is that she lacks any record of achievment, and it appears that Pawlenty’s comments to CNN’s Candy Crowley along those lines are what set Bachmann off.

In an interview that aired Sunday, Pawlenty said that “these are really serious times and there hasn’t been somebody who went [directly] from the U.S. House of Representatives to the presidency, I think, in over a hundred years, and there’s a reason for that.”

Pawlenty was the only major candidate to suggest that her struggles with migraines, which came to light last week, were a legitimate part of the 2012 debate. Pawlenty later walked those remarks back.

And, in response to Bachmann’s attack on Pawlenty’s record, his campaign made clear they won’t be backing down.

“The truth is that there is very little difference between Governor Pawlenty and Congresswoman Bachmann on their issue positions,” said Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant. “The difference is that when governor Pawlenty was scoring conservative victories ... Congresswoman Bachmann was giving speeches and offering failed amendments — all while struggling mightily to hold onto the most Republican house seat in the state.” WOW.

Regardless of Rollins’ explanation of the reason for Bachmann’s change in strategy, it’s likely to be read as a sign that she is increasingly concerned about the former governor cutting into her support in advance of the Ames Straw Poll.

Pawlenty is spending heavily — he has run three ads in Iowa already — in advance of Ames, knowing that a strong showing is an absolute necessity for him to kickstart what has been a largely dormant campaign to date.

Given their struggle to draw a spark, the Pawlenty team is almost certainly thrilled at the prospect of getting into an extended back and forth with Bachmann. (Politics is like sports; you are always better off punching up.)

Tweeted Pawlenty campaign manager Nick Ayers: “Glad an opponent engaged today. Even better ... she used a bunch of weak/incorrect oppo research. We’ll be back in IA to address tomorrow.”

For Pawlenty to win Iowa — either next month’s straw poll or the caucuses next February — he has to peel away support from Bachmann. That means he needs to win the fight between the two that is now underway.

Boehner and Reid go different ways: Sunday passed without a major proposal from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), but what we do know is that he appears to be going in his own direction — even as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) drafts his own proposal.

Boehner told his GOP colleagues Sunday that he would unveil a plan Monday that would extend the debt limit by only a trillion dollars and force another showdown in the runup to the 2012 election. But Obama, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appear to have rejected this idea.

Reid, meanwhile, said late Sunday that he will introduce a package that includes $2.7 trillion in spending cuts and no tax increases — which could be more palatable to congressional Republicans.

The Reid plan would also meet Boehner’s goal of having a dollar of debt reduction for every dollar that the debt limit is increased.

Wu losing lifelines: Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) is running out of ways to stay in Congress, and it looks like he’s departing. The question is whether its sooner or later.

Reports and a Fix source indicate that he will not seek reelection, but that may not be good enough for his colleagues. Both Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said late Sunday that the House ethics committee should investigate Wu.

The threat of an ethics investigation, of course, can be a very powerful way of hinting that a member should just resign, rather than put themselves through such a process. Both Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned with ethics investigations hanging over their heads.

The Portland Oregonian reported late Friday night that Wu’s office had received a call from a distraught young woman who complained of an “unwanted sexual encounter” with Wu.

Straw poll ballot set: Rick Perry will not be on the Ames Straw Poll ballot, and neither will Sarah Palin. But both could still receive significant support as write-in candidates.

The Iowa Republican Party on Saturday released the names of nine candidates who will be on the ballot at the straw poll next month, including three candidates who aren’t directly participating — former governors Jon Huntsman (Utah) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

The exclusion of Perry and Palin, though, sets up an interesting dynamic, under which undeclared candidates could gain significant support — particularly given that Perry has a group of supporters organizing in the state. It helps to have an organized and coordinated effort, of course, but the relative unease with the current field of candidates could make Perry or Palin an attractice protest vote as a write-in.

The straw poll is generally seen as the first major vote in the presidential nominating process — measuring early support in the first-in-the-nation state. But its format doesn’t make it a foolproof indicator of the race ahead in the Hawkeye State, especially given that certain candidates are making an effort while others are blowing it off.

Fixbits:

In Perry’s first interview with the New Hampshire Union-Leader, he assures that he enjoys the kind of retail politics that the state requires.

Perry’s late start could affect his ability to raise money.

Perry also says that its OK for New York to pass a gay marriage law, citing states’ rights.

The latest on Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), whose office reportedly received a call from a woman who accused him of an “unwanted sexual encounter.”

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has another dust-up on the House floor — this one ending quite a bit better than the last one.

Did Gingrich go to Tiffany’s again?

Must-reads:

God and small government: Across Iowa, Bachmann invokes both” — Josh Hafner, Des Moines Register

Amid stalemate in debt limit talks, Americans take their frustrations to Twitter” — Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

Reasons for Perry not to pull the trigger — just yet” — Peggy Fikac, San Antonio Express-News.

Three GOP leaders with three ideas on the debt” — Paul Kane, Washington Post

Iowa caucuses up for grabs” — Jonathan Martin, Politico

New Jersey’s Christie casts shadow over Iowa, 2012” — Thomas Beaumont, AP

Obama takes political, policy gamble on ‘big deal’” — Zachary A. Goldfard, Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics.com

Oregon’s Rep. Wu faces sex allegation

Voters’ renewed anger at Washington spurs formation of third-party advocate groups

2Chambers: Amid debt stalemate, Americans take frustrations

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