Taking Back the House: Wetterling Dreams

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DISTRICT: Minnesota's 6th (Twin Cities exurbs)

REPUBLICAN: State Sen. Michele Bachmann (R)

CHALLENGER: Child Safety Advocate Patty Wetterling (D)

TOP ISSUE: The middle-class squeeze

"I'm a little unusual," says Wetterling, "in that I've not been in federal office but I've already passed federal legislation." Wetterling, whose eleven-year-old son was kidnapped at gunpoint in 1989, was the driving force behind the passage of the Jacob Wetterling Act requiring every state to implement a child sex-offender registry. She also led the fight, in Minnesota and nationally, to issue Amber Alerts for missing children.

Challenging Wetterling for this open seat is Bachmann, a charismatic state senator who won the GOP primary by staking out the far, far right. Bachmann is a creationist who insists that evolution "has never been proven," an unbridled hawk who believes "we should not remove the nuclear response" in dealing with Iran, and a raging homophobe who accuses the gay community of "targeting our children."

"We're night and day on every topic," says Wetterling. "She home-schooled her kids and voted against education on the state level. I taught secondary math."

The 6th District was a stronghold for Bush in 2004. But Wetterling has run for this seat once before and nearly scored an upset victory, giving her superior name recognition and an edge in the polls. This is a contest Republicans know they must win, which explains why Bush felt the need to swing through Lake Minnetonka in August for a fund-raiser that pumped more than half a million into Bachmann's campaign.

"If the Democrats can win a race like this," political handicapper Stu Rothenberg says, "they're certainly taking back the House."