Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told ABC News today that she deserves to be elected chairwoman of the Republican Conference in the next Congress, mainly because of her role as the face of the Tea Party movement that helped propel the Republican majority in the next House.
"I think that deserves a seat at the table in leadership, and deserves recognition. And, quite frankly, I believe that I represent that extreme hard worker, and I think that's identified by the traveling I did, the speaking I did, the money I've raised, the candidates that I've helped and the rallies that I've organized," Bachmann said. "I think a person would be hard-pressed to find another member who has done that level of work within the conference. That's not to say I'm everything. I'm not, but I think that I've contributed mightily to this electoral victory."
Bachmann is matched in a leadership race against Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who announced last week that he was also seeking the conference chair position. Hensarling, who was re-elected to serve his fifth term in the House, is widely viewed as one of the most conservative members of the House but is not as closely associated with the Tea Party as Bachmann, who founded the congressional Tea Party Caucus last summer.
Bachmann, from Stillwater, won re-election to a third House term with 53 percent of the vote, defeating a well-financed challenger in Tarryl Clark, a state senator from St. Cloud, in the most expensive House race in the nation.
Bachmann worked throughout her campaign to expose Clark's prominent campaign surrogates, such as President Obama, former President Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, to motivate her own supporters to donate to the Bachmann campaign.
The message was apparently well-received. Bachmann told ABC News she'd raised $3.65 million during the month of October, pushing her total fundraising haul for this election cycle to more than $13.75 million.
"I believe that historically I am the No. 1 fundraiser in the history of the House of Representatives [for one cycle]," Bachmann said. "That's an extraordinary amount of money, and it came with an average donation of $45 per donation. And we have well over 100,000 people that donated to my race, so I have a fairly wide broad swath of support of a constituency across the nation who sees mine as an authentic, sincere credible voice that they can trust in giving them accurate information what's happening in Washington, D.C."
In the showdown for GOP conference chair, Hensarling has the support of presumptive Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the outgoing conference chairman, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, likely the next chairman of the House Budget Committee.
While the race for the conference chair position is the GOP's only high-profile battle for a House leadership position in the next session of Congress, Hensarling said the campaign to collect support so far has not been malicious.
"Michele is a good friend, and we kind of committed to each other that this would be the friendliest race in conference history. Hopefully, it's living up to its billing," Hensarling said. "I'm confident that I'm gonna win, and she very well may be confident she's gonna win. And we'll see. We'll see what happens next week."
The conference chairman drives the GOP's public message, holding regular news conferences with the Capitol press corps and helps arrange appearances on network television.
Bachmann told ABC News that she believes she deserves a seat at the GOP leadership table because she's been an effective advocate on the national and local levels while "pointing out the deficiencies with President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi's policies."
"If you look at the wrong track, right track numbers, the American people don't feel like they were heard and that was evident at the ballot box," Bachmann said. "I've spent a lot of time in these last really four years, making the case on a national level against their policies but also in turn offering our positive solutions."
Bachmann says she raised more than $650,000 through her political action committee, Michele PAC, and has also donated $400,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee to help elect a Repubican majority. A Bachmann spokesman tells ABC News that Bachmann now has more than $2 million left over in the bank.
Meanwhile, Hensarling contributed $2,393,306 for House Republicans across the country, including $1,769,383 for the NRCC. He was the top fundraiser in the GOP conference outside of elected leadership and the third overall contributor among House Republicans. Only the next presumptive speaker of the House, John Boehner, R-Ohio, and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, gave more to House Republicans among elected representatives.
Bachmann says her strengths are led by her energetic personality and a hard-working mentality. She pointed to her lead role in helping to bring tens of thousands of people into Washington for Tea Party rallies opposing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama's health care reform.
Responding to criticism that she is a right-wing conservative who is too extreme for a seat at the GOP's leadership table, Bachmann said it's important have "diversity of ideas and diversity of opinions" in the leadership, and pointed to her opposition to the $700 billion TARP legislation, No Child Left Behind and President George W. Bush's immigration reform proposals.
"Mine is an independent voice. I'm not necessarily in lockstep [with the Republican leadership]. I think that is healthy and positive to have diversity of opinion at the leadership table. It's important to have women, it's important to have I think leadership reflect the results of the election last Tuesday evening," Bachmann said.
As GOP conference chairwoman, Bachmann said she would work to reach out to the GOP conference to find new forms of communication to reach constituents across the country.
"I have I think a little over 140,000 Facebook friends right now. That's one thing I'd like to do is be able to encourage and equip the members of our conference to have more two-way communications with their constituents because, imagine the ability to influence people in our districts if we have that level of a unfiltered communication tool," Bachmann said.