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Two new members offer a study in contrasts

Both elected on Nov. 7, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic Rep. David Loebsack are proof that the electorate didn’t have one consistent message in every congressional district last year.
New House members Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and David Loebsack of Iowa
New House members Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and David Loebsack of IowaJ. Scott Applewhite / AP file
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Michele Bachmann and David Loebsack are both newly elected members of the 110th Congress and both Midwesterners.

The congressional districts they represent are only a three-hour drive from each other. But Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, and Loebsack, an Iowa Democrat, come from political universes that are light-years apart.

He’s a liberal, a former professor of international relations who backed Howard Dean for president in 2004; he has never served in the state legislature or on a city council.

She’s a conservative tax lawyer who served in the state Senate and led the crusade to outlaw same-sex marriage in her state.

Both elected on Nov. 7, Bachmann and Loebsack are proof that the electorate didn’t have one consistent message in every congressional district last year.

A surprise winner
Loebsack was a dark-horse candidate who surprised many observers in Washington by defeating 15-term centrist Republican Rep. Jim Leach, one of only six House Republicans to vote in 2002 against going to war with Iraq.

Loebsack will be representing a district that stretches from Cedar Rapids on the north all the way to Iowa’s border with Missouri. It includes the University of Iowa at Iowa City.

When asked Wednesday what he wanted to be remembered for by the end of his first term, Loebsack said, “I’m on the Education and Workforce Committee because in my district those two constituencies are extremely important. It’s not one of the top-tier committees; that doesn’t matter to me. I want to be on Education and Workforce because especially the institutions of higher education in our district, whether it’s Cornell College (where he taught until last year) or the University of Iowa or community colleges, tie in very nicely with economic development.”

And his committee’s jurisdiction over labor law “is very critical to lot of unions in my district,” he said.

“If we can somehow work on education, and better prepare the people of the Second District for an increasingly globalized economy, I think we can work hand in hand with employers and the labor (union) folks,” he said.

He'll vote for Iraq funding
Despite his criticism of the Iraq war, Loebsack said Wednesday he’d vote for the supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan when it comes to a vote on the House floor in the spring.

“I do favor conditions” limiting how President Bush spends the money, he said. “How that gets framed, I’m not sure at this point.”

But “if there were a straight up-or-down vote at the moment, I would not vote against the appropriations — in large part because I have relatives who have been there” serving in uniform in Iraq.

GOP relief in Minnesota
Even though she was running in a district that Bush had won with 57 percent in 2004, Bachmann seemed relieved that she’d been one of the GOP House candidates who wasn’t swept away by the Democratic tide last November.

“Winning by eight percent seemed like a landslide,” she said at the orientation for new House members after the election.

“The message that we heard over and over again is the people really feel like they’re being taxed too heavily, so they want to make sure that we come and reduce their taxes if at all possible,” she said. “Also they were very concerned about the war and they’re concerned about their safety — to make sure we keep people safe in this country.”

Her new constituents also want federal money to help build more roads in the fast-growing district, which spreads north from the Twin Cities suburbs to Saint Cloud.

When asked whether victory was still possible in Iraq, Bachmann replied, “I sure hope so. We certainly don’t want the terrorists to win and to successfully cause a problem in this country.”

Asked how she’d vote on any proposed cuts in funding or cuts in troop levels in Iraq, Bachmann said it was premature to address that, but “we have to make sure that we are securing the region; we can’t leave it unprotected; a number of Democratic leaders have expressed that sentiment as well.”

What was God's role in election?
Some Democratic critics of Bachmann thought her views were too far beyond the pale even for voters in her Republican-leaning district. She gave the critics fodder when she said a few weeks before the election, “God called me to run for the United States Congress.”

She added that after the Mark Foley scandal, God had “focused like a laser beam” on her campaign. The outcome of her race had implications “for defeating radical Islam” and “for the future of the family,” she told a congregation at a church in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

But the GOP loss of control of the House may have “let Bachmann to be Bachmann,” allowing her to proclaim her conservative views more freely. As a prominent conservative woman, she will have a role in charting the new ideological course for her party. “And that I am so thankful for,” she said.

'An unapologetic conservative'
Her conservative identity, she said, "contributed to my success, because in Minnesota, although we were a very heavily Democratic-leaning state and we saw a number of Democratic victories in Minnesota, I think the voters in the state do value authenticity. They understood that I believe in truth-in-packaging and that I am who I say I am. I am an unapologetic conservative and campaigned that way and that’s what the constituents appreciated.”

The lesson for the Republican Party?

“The more we clarify our position with the voters, stand with that position, be who we say we are, I think the voters historically have rewarded that position,” she said.

Isn’t she swimming against the Democratic tide?

“You have to remember I’m from a state where Paul Wellstone was elected during a Republican tide,” Bachmann noted, alluding to the election of the late liberal Democratic senator in 1990. “There’s a great deal of authenticity that came from Paul Wellstone.”

Democrats might find it odd, even irreverent, for Bachmann to link herself to Wellstone, but it’s all part of “Bachmann being Bachmann.”