Michele Bachmann’s political outreach hasn’t extended very far, critics say
By Sandhya Somashekhar, Published: September 4
WOODBURY, Minn. — Rep. Michele Bachmann’s staff had set up video equipment for six Muslim constituents who had come to her district office for a meeting. The plan was for them to have a teleconference with the congresswoman, who was in Washington.
But Bachmann did not turn up, said Ikram Ul Huq, the Republican activist who organized the 2009 meeting. It was the second time the group had been stood up by Bachmann, whose office blamed a scheduling conflict. Huq said Bachmann offered no apology and did not attempt to reschedule.
“We wanted to talk about jobs and the local issues that matter to us. She simply dodged the thing,” recalled Huq, who has set up similar meetings with other Republican lawmakers.
In her nearly five years in Congress,Bachmann has connected deeply with tea party activists and social conservatives, but some constituents outside those circles say that she is distant and unresponsive and that, at times, she has snubbed them outright.
As Bachmann struggles to maintain her top-tier status among GOP presidential contenders, she is trying to extend the reach of her campaign, meeting with a wider array of groups as well as with mainstream fundraisers. But that effort appears to be a departure for Bachmann, whose political career has not relied on appealing to a broad spectrum of voters.
A polarizing figure nationally and in her party, Bachmann has a similar profile in her central Minnesota district. Dozens of interviews yielded a picture of a passionate champion of the dedicated right: home-schooling parents, anti-tax suburbanites, Christian-values voters and like-minded people who feel ignored by their government officials.
But others in the state’s 6th Congressional District, including some Republicans, say she has shown little interest in engaging with their concerns.
“With Michele, I feel totally ignored,” said Sue Hedin, a Stillwater librarian who considers herself a Democratic-leaning independent. “With no other representative have I felt quite that way.”
Bachmann’s supporters contend that she has worked with a variety of constituents in leading bipartisan efforts. They cite her efforts to repeal controversial education standards as a state senator and her strong support as a congresswoman of a four-lane bridge connecting her home town of Stillwater with Wisconsin.
“Whenever she comes to town, she’s all over the place. And anybody can ask whatever they want, and she makes every attempt to answer whatever questions are thrown her way,” said James Rugg, a resident of St. Cloud, the largest city in her district.
Rugg and other supporters say they see her at virtually every tea party rally, at home-schooling conventions and veterans’ events. She marched in Stillwater’s annual Lumberjack Days parade this year.
Asked about the no-show meeting with the Muslim constituents in 2009, Becky Rogness, a spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office, said cancellations were sometimes unavoidable. The office declined to comment about specific incidents but said Bachmann strives to respond to all of her constituents regardless of their points of view.
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