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Between Bachmann and Pawlenty, too many Minnesotans for 2012 presidential race?

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The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 1:34 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann spent the past decade mostly staying out of each other's way, two Minnesotans taking very different paths on the rise to national Republican Party prominence from a state better known for its Democratic icons.

Their shared flirtation with presidential politics won't allow that much longer.

Though each appeals to different segments of their party and they are far from alone in the 2012 mix, some doubt a same-state duo can stay viable very long. And it is a recipe for division among Minnesota Republicans left to pick sides, meaning delay for either Pawlenty or Bachmann nailing down critical support back home.

"The comparisons are going to be inevitable," said Chuck Laudner, a former Iowa Republican Party executive director. "If one of them is consistently pegging higher in polling as we get into this caucus process, I think it's a red mark that is going to be hard to overcome."

Attention to the two possible candidacies is growing as Pawlenty and Bachmann visit states with early contests in the election calendar and make other moves seen as campaign preparations.

Pawlenty, the former two-term governor, took a traditional route to the race starting line. He governed as a fiscal hawk with a reliably conservative record on abortion, gun laws and other social causes. He methodically traveled to Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere to give speeches and launched a political action committee to spread political money to potential allies. And he published a campaign-ready memoir just as he left office.

Bachmann, a third-term congresswoman, is a provocateur whose White House ambitions seemed to crop up suddenly. She caught the tea party updraft, proved a mighty fundraiser and built a following with unvarnished commentary on cable news shows. Last month, she delivered her own nationally televised response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address - a production that was spoofed days later by "Saturday Night Live" and showed an attention-getting ability starting to rival conservative contemporary Sarah Palin.

Pawlenty and Bachmann are already appearing at the same events and meeting with the same activists who can make or break a White House campaign.

If both formally enter the race, they'll dive instantly into a competition for dollars and supporters, including on their home turf where Minnesota contributors have largely fueled their past campaigns. It would put home-state Republicans in a bind, leaving an impression of tepid enthusiasm or even division among the GOP voters who know the Minnesota hopefuls the best.

Before Bachmann entered the 2012 picture, former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman called Pawlenty someone who would make "a great president," and told one audience he'd sleep better if Pawlenty were in charge.

Last week Coleman soft-pedaled when asked by an ABC interviewer about a race featuring both Pawlenty and Bachmann.

"I have got a lot of friends out there, I always stick with my friends," he said. Coleman was traveling out of the country this week and unavailable for additional comment.

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