WASHINGTON – In Minnesota, two women who couldn't be more opposed in their political views are running for an open U.S. House seat that has become one of the most coveted of the midterm election.
Patty Wetterling, a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota, is proudly pro-choice and proposed last year that the United States should be able to start withdrawing its troops from Iraq by Thanksgiving 2006.
Her opponent, Republican state Sen. Michele Bachmann, is the architect of legislation that would make gay marriage in Minnesota unconstitutional. She is very anti-abortion and used to pray and counsel outside abortion clinics in college.
"Wetterling is liberal and Bachmann is pretty conservative — there is a real contrast and this district could go either way," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and author of the "Crystal Ball" midterm election tip sheet. "This is going to be pretty close."
Wetterling, a child advocate, ran a strong campaign against Kennedy in 2004, losing 54-46 percent. She was an earlier candidate for Dayton's seat, which would have pit her against Kennedy again, but she dropped out in January and later announced she would be running in the 6th Congressional District again.
Republicans say Wetterling is too liberal to win in this district — the suburbs and exburbs of St. Paul and Minneapolis are by far the most Republican of any other area of the state. They point to acknowledgement by Wetterling herself, who told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in April 2005 that "the numbers show … I will not win" another bid in the district.
Wetterling told FOXNews.com the comment was made in the wake of her loss to Kennedy, but since then the dynamics have changed and she is a stronger candidate for the experience.
Nonetheless, said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign, "Minnesota is a purple district; Minnesota 6th is ruby red. [Wetterling] is far too liberal for the district."
Brian Melendez, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Labor-Farm Party, disagreed. "Where is the evidence of this?"
Melendez extolled Wetterling's strong fundraising so far over Bachmann, who has had visible events with Vice President Cheney and President Bush's presidential adviser Karl Rove.
"She is clearly resonating with voters in that district," Melendez said.
Wetterling, a former math teacher, had 91 percent name recognition in the state in 2004, primarily because of her efforts in passing comprehensive child protection laws in the wake of the 1989 abduction of her 11-year-old son, Jacob, who was never found. She is more of a fit than the GOP wants to admit, say Democratic sources, and that's why Republicans are pouring so much money and energy into trying to keep that seat in the fall.
"It looks to me like Patty is going to take this one," said Keith Parchem, chairman of the Wright County DLF. "I consider myself fairly moderate and I don't consider her very liberal either. She doesn't seem to be that far out."
So far, no independent polling has been done on the race. Bachmann, a mother who has fostered 23 children for the state and tax attorney who has been in the state Senate for six years as an avowed anti-tax advocate, social conservative and budget watchdog, notes that Bush beat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the district 57 percent to 42 percent.
She said she has been active in the state's economic development, pushing a taxpayers' bill of rights, and helping to eliminate standardized public education requirements she believed were steeped in political correctness.
"Minnesota has a great story to tell," she added, pointing to a rebound in the state's economy. "I was very proud of being part of that effort."
Bachmann also claims the district is home to the most Christian evangelicals, home school proponents and churchgoers in the state. She was not successful in passing the marriage amendment, but said she believes most voters in the district support it.
"This is a growing district, a lot of new housing, a lot of young families ... a lot of business growth. We tend to favor not only fiscal conservative issues but (trend) toward social conservative issues too," she said.
"Michele Bachmann is smart, articulate and in-step with the voters of the 6th District," Rep. Kennedy said in an e-mail to FOXNews.com. "Her background and level of expertise on the issues is second to none."
But the issues Bachmann supports have made Democratic interest groups uneasy. Emily's List, which has put Wetterling on its coveted shortlist of targeted women candidates for fundraising this year, called Bachmann a "charismatic right-wing leader who will do anything to win."
"Voters in this open swing district have a clear choice between Wetterling, a Democrat whose work on behalf of missing and exploited children has made her a national leader, and Bachmann, an ultra-conservative GOP state senator who has made eliminating a woman's right to choose and limiting the rights of gay and lesbian Americans her personal crusade."
Melendez described Bachmann as "scary right-wing."
"It may be that the district tilts a little right of center but it doesn't tilt that right," he added.
Mark Drake, spokesman for the Minnesota Republican Party, pointed to Kennedy's record, in which he received a zero rating from the American Civil Liberties Union and a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition in 2004, as a clear indication of what this district wants in a successful representative.
"[Voters here] are strongly pro-life … culturally conservative," he said. "That's not good territory for Patty Wetterling, who was endorsed by MoveOn.org and that crowd."
Meanwhile, both women face independent candidate John Binkowski, a 27-year-old student who says voters are open-minded in Minnesota and deserve better than the two-party rhetoric.
"It's not just [the district] that needs another voice, it's America. We have a country filled with young, disenfranchised voters. To me, this fact is not only damning to our current leadership, but a danger to our democracy," he said. "If the people aren't involved, the leaders will do what they please. Neither of these women will motivate a new generation of voters. I believe I can."