The Washington Post

Not so Minnesota nice

Tim Pawlenty has reached desperation time. The Republican presidential contender is in low double-digits heading into a straw poll in a must-do-well state for him. Without much luck, he’s tried to attack fellow candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on the grounds she has “a non-existent record.” So then along comes a story about Bachmann’s migraine headaches, fueled by ex-employees of Bachmann. (Post reporters spoke to three former aides about the headaches, two of whom said they “did not appear to interfere with her work”and one who said she disappeared frequently due to migraines.) Pawlenty’s reaction was, to say the least, strange.

First, he deferred to the doctors. “Tim Pawlenty demurred Tuesday when asked whether voters should take into account Michele Bachmann’s debilitating migraines when making their decision on who to nominate, saying he’d leave an assessment up doctors.” Then he needled her in a subsequent comment: “All of the candidates I think are going to have to be able to demonstrate they can do all of the job all of the time. There’s no real time off in that job.” Well, that’s the point of those digging up the medical information on her, right?

And then, of course, Bachmann did release her doctor’s note debunking the more extreme aspects of the story:

You have a well-established diagnosis of migraine headaches with aura for which you have had an extensive evaluation by both my office and by a board certified consulting neurologist. Your evaluation has entailed detailed labwork and brain scans all of which were normal. Your migraines occur infrequently and have known trigger factors of which you are aware and know how to avoid. When you do have a migraine, you are able to control it well with as-needed sumatriptan and odansetron. It has not been necessary for you to take daily scheduled medications to manage this condition. You have not needed medical attention from me regarding your migraines with the use of the above mentioned commonly used therapies.

She also had her brother, a psychiatrist, provide additional information to rebut the claim that she was incapacitated by headaches. So is that good enough for Pawlenty, who said he’d go along with the verdict of her docs? For now, the Pawlenty camp is keeping mum.

Pawlenty’s reaction to the story is even odder when you consider the reaction of every other campaign. Alexander Burns of Politico went from campaign to campaign, asking if each had any involvement in surfacing the story. A spokesman for Jon Huntsman said: “It’s a ‘minor medical condition’ that shouldn’t be ‘taken advantage of’ in advance of the Ames Straw Poll.” Spokesmen for Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney gave flat “no’s” when asked if their campaigns had any involvement in the headache story. In California, Romney added: “There’s no question in my mind that Michele Bachmann’s health is in no way an impediment to her being able to serve as president. . . . Her health should not be an issue in a campaign.” Then there was this answer from Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant, which a Republican operative described as “massaged”: “We did not pitch or push the Daily Caller story and haven’t since.”

Okay, readers, which answer is not like the others?

I repeatedly asked the Pawlenty team yesterday a series of questions about the headache story, including whether Pawlenty or his staff had any knowledge of or involvement in the release of Bachmann’s medical records and whether the campaign would fire anyone found to be involved in the story. I also inquired about whether Pawlenty believed it was appropriate for an employee to leak medical information about his boss. There was no response.

The recent Washington Post-ABC poll suggests Pawlenty is becoming a non-factor in the race. With his support at 2 percent, he’s not going to pose a threat to anyone. But it would be a shame if he lost not just the race but his reputation for Minnesota “nice.”

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.


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