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Call it the Minnesota feud — Iowa style. The simmering rivalry between Republican presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann spilled out onto the campaign trail Monday as the two Minnesotans campaigned in the leadoff caucus state three weeks before a test vote by Iowa Republicans that could hinder or help their presidential bid.
“She has a record for saying things that are off the mark and this is another example of that,” Pawlenty told 125 people in a Davenport restaurant as he responded to Bachmann’s criticism a day earlier that he had espoused the same policies as President Barack Obama.
On Sunday, Bachmann issued a written statement quoting Pawlenty saying in 2006 that “government has to be more proactive and more aggressive.” Wrote Bachmann: “That’s the same philosophy that, under President Obama, has brought us record deficits, massive unemployment, and an unconstitutional health care plan.”
She refrained from such direct criticism of Pawlenty on Monday. None of the 50 people gathered at the Delaware County fairgrounds asked about the dust-up with Pawlenty. And this was as close as the Iowa native got to defending her record: “I’ve taken your voice that I heard growing up here in this great state to the halls of Congress very effectively. And I have fought and fought against all of this out of control spending.”
In separate appearances across the state, both encouraged Republican activists to attend the Iowa straw poll, an event seen as an early test of strength in the state where the nominating caucuses begin the 2012 primary sequence.
The escalated squabbling between the two underscored the high stakes for both ahead of the Aug. 13 popularity contest. Both are competing aggressively — campaigning across the state, running TV ads and, now, poking at each other’s credentials — in hopes of emerging as the main alternative to Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.
Each of their presidential chances rests in Iowa. Pawlenty hopes that a strong showing next month and in the caucuses early next year will lift his sagging campaign while derailing Bachmann. She, in turn, wants to continue boosting her standing as polls show her on Romney’s heels in Iowa and nationally.
Pawlenty, whose support in Iowa polls is in the single digits even though he’s spent 18 months laying the groundwork for an Iowa campaign, had said he planned to refrain from attacking Bachmann. He quickly pivoted after she leapt to near the top of GOP presidential preference polls in Iowa shortly after announcing her candidacy.
Since then, Pawlenty has increasingly poked at Bachmann as she’s become a threat to his chances in Iowa and beyond. Earlier this month on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he called her record in Congress “non-existent,” and has indirectly attacked her time as a state legislator and three terms in Congress as more flash than substance, compared to his two terms as governor. He’s also subtly jabbed at her with a summer campaign theme of “results, not rhetoric.”
Bachmann hit back over the weekend in the scathing statement that accused Pawlenty of supporting policies in the past that are unpopular with members of the GOP base who dominate the early primary and caucus electorate. Among them: cap-and-trade energy policy and federal bank and auto company bailouts.
Her aides said the campaign was fed up with Pawlenty’s criticism.
“Enough’s enough,” Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said during Bachmann’s appearance in Manchester. “You can’t just let somebody keep taking cheap shots at you. We set the record straight. We made sure that people understood what Gov. Pawlenty’s record is.”
On Monday, Pawlenty publically criticized Bachmann in front of GOP caucus-goer while answering a question from a voter.
“She and I have fought for many of the same issues. We have fought the same fights. But she hasn’t won. I have,” Pawlenty said in Davenport on Monday. “There’s a big difference between talking and getting stuff done. I get stuff done.”
Pawlenty has said he respects Bachmann, and he campaigned for her, though they took sharply different paths and moved in different circles in Minnesota.
And they clashed seldom, but notably.
In 2003, Bachmann was the sole Minnesota Senate Republican to oppose Pawlenty’s signature economic development proposal for tax breaks to businesses that expand or relocate to distressed areas. At the time, Bachmann called it “government intervention.”
Crumb reported form Davenport, Iowa. Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn., contributed to this report.