Republican's 'anti-American' attack backfires

 

An obscure candidate is riding high after a rival's ill-considered remarks, writes PJ Huffstutterin Blaine, Minnesota

ELWYN TINKLENBERG is living the long-shot candidate's dream.

There weren't enough chairs for the volunteers inside the four-room campaign office on Wednesday. Every time aides refreshed their computers, hundreds of online donations flooded in.

Downstairs, the postal carrier spent 10 minutes trying to cram a 2ft stack of envelopes - all holding cheques - into the postbox.

"It's been raining money," said Beth DeZiel (39), the campaign's deputy finance director. "There's so much, we can barely keep up. It's unbelievable."

This unsolicited good fortune - $1.3 million since last week - isn't based on anything the former mayor and grandfather of seven did, though. It's all because of something his rival, the Republican incumbent in the House of Representatives, Michele Bachmann, said.

Last Friday, Bachmann appeared on MSNBC and made what has been dubbed the million-dollar mistake: she alleged that presidential candidate Barack Obama might hold "anti-American" views and proposed a media investigation into "the views of the people in Congress and find out: are they pro-America or anti-America?"

While Obama's presidential bid has transformed the way campaigns use the internet to reach volunteers and donors, the technology has also become a way for the public to react instantly - even to races where those engaged can't cast a vote. Bachmann's interview has turned the race into one of the country's most intensely watched.

It also unleashed an online backlash against Bachmann, who many local political observers assumed would win re-election easily. One poll showed Bachmann leading Tinklenberg by 13 percentage points.

By the middle of this week, however, the National Republican Congressional Committee had pulled its TV advertising supporting Bachmann, according to a Republican source.

Since her TV appearance, she has had lawn signs vandalised while callers spew profanity at volunteers and obscenities about Bachmann at her campaign

office.

Bachmann has retreated from her statements at nearly every subsequent campaign stop. She blamed the brouhaha on falling into a "trap" laid for her and having her words twisted by bloggers. "This has been a game of telephone gone into overdrive, nothing more," Bachmann's spokeswoman Michelle Marston said. "A week ago, our competitor had no name identification. If they think that they'll win by throwing a million dollars worth of mud, I can tell you right now, it won't be enough."

While Bachmann was on MSNBC, Tinklenberg was watching a college hockey game and canvassing for votes in the stands. The cheers drowned out the sound of his phone ringing.

"By the time I looked at it, my voice mail was full," said Tinklenberg (58), who works as a transportation consultant. "It was family, friends, neighbours, supporters. Everyone was asking, 'Did you see what she said?' "

Since then, the campaign has become flush. The majority of the funds have come electronically. Thousands of people have called the campaign office. Some gave the maximum of $2,300, but most offered $3 or $5, along with a message of support and an apology for not being able to give more.

"I'm a registered Republican and I have never made contributions to political campaigns," wrote one 66-year-old donor. "I wish I could send more."

People who said they couldn't afford to give cash have been dropping off food for Tinklenberg and the eight-member staff - platters of apple strudel, pots of chicken noodle soup, paper bags stuffed with oatmeal cookies.

"I'm not happy she said what she said," Tinklenberg observed, "but we certainly are benefiting from it." - (Los Angeles Times-Washington Post service)