Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) just handed a gift to the House Republicans' campaign organization.
The outspoken conservative's decision not to run for reelection increases the likelihood the GOP will hold onto Minnesota's 6th district, for several reasons. In short, Republicans can now lean on the natural GOP tilt of the district without having to defend Bachmann's baggage -- which nearly cost the conservative her spot in Congress last fall.
Had Bachmann run, the race would have shaped up as a referendum on her record. Period. And that would have been tough for the tea party-backed congresswoman and onetime presidential candidate.
In addition to all of the controversial statements Bachmann has made over the years, federal investigators have been drawn to allegations of improprieties in her 2012 presidential campaign. In March, word surfaced she had come under scrutiny from the Office of Congressional Ethics. She was also reportedly in talks to settle a lawsuit involving allegations of a stolen e-mail list of home-school families. The bottom line is that even if no wrongdoing whatsoever could be tied to Bachmann, having the word "investigation" even remotely linked to one's political activities isn't helpful.
Bachmann's 6th district is the most conservative in the state. Mitt Romney carried 56 percent of the vote there in 2012, yet the congresswoman narrowly won reelection by a bit more than one point over Democrat Jim Graves, even as she dramatically outspent him. Simply put, this is fertile ground for Republicans in a standard R versus D race. But Bachmann, of course, is not a standard Republican, which is why she almost coughed up a seat in a district with a conservative tilt.
Graves, a hotel magnate, announced last month that he would run again this cycle, giving Democrats an early start in their quest to unseat the conservative lawmaker. National Democrats early took notice of Graves's campaign and so did Bachmann. The congresswoman launched an ad buy well in advance of the election -- an unconventional move, and one that suggested a sense of vulnerability.
But now, Graves does not have the luxury of running against a wounded opponent. And he faces an uphill climb given the district's partisan tilt.
The good news for the Democrat is that the Republican race to replace Bachmann could grow crowded and competitive, potentially forcing GOP candidates to expend resources while the Democrat sits back and prepares for the general election. A Republican with an eye on the race pointed to a dozen potential GOP contenders.
From the state legislature, state Reps. Tim Sanders, Matt Dean, David FitzSimmons and Peggy Scott, along with state Sens. Michelle Fischbach and Mary Kiffmeyer are all possibilities. So are St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis and Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah. Former Senate candidate Pete Hegseth and former gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer could also run, and former state legislators Jim Knoblach and Phil Krinkie are worth keeping an eye on.
None will be able raise the eye-popping sums of money Bachmann brought in quarter after quarter as one of Congress's most prolific fundraisers. But for Republicans with an eye on preventing Democrats from picking up the 17 seats they need to win back the majority, trading Bachmann's millions for a chance to run a new Republican is a no-brainer.