This week, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann formally kicked off her presidential campaign in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. With a field of heavyweight contenders, her legitimacy as a candidate has immediately been brought into question; however, capturing the Republican nomination and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not entirely out of the question.
In a recent Bloomberg News poll, Bachmann trails frontrunner Mitt Romney by 11% and sits amongst a group of other candidates with 26% favorability. But, perhaps the best sign for the Bachmann camp is the 49% that are not sure about her candidacy. As the crucial Ames Straw Poll approaches, Tea Party conservatives should not be discouraged by recent public opinion polls. With just over seven months until the Iowa caucuses, these polls only reflect voters' early candidate name recognition.
Bachmann must now introduce herself to the electorate as more than just a leader of the Tea Party. As a congresswoman from Minnesota, Bachmann does not get the same national coverage that a governor of a major industrial state receives. The American people know the polarizing candidates: former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Congressman Ron Paul, and Romney. If she is to get a positive result in the polls, her campaign needs to focus on getting used to the retail politics of New Hampshire and the grip and grin events in Iowa. I expect Bachmann to spend the majority of her time during the summer reiterating her opening statement of the recent Republican debate, when she spoke of her five children and 23 foster children.
But, the question on analysts’ minds is not, “Who is Michele Bachmann?” but whether she can actually win. I believe she is the alternative to Romney that the GOP has been looking for. We have seen it before: A clear frontrunner succumbing to an up-and-coming candidate. In 2008, then-Senator Hillary Clinton established an early lead during the Democratic primaries, but was upset in Iowa by a surging senator from Illinois. Bachmann’s chronicle could be the same, but it will live and die with the Tea Party, which took the nation by storm during the 2010 midterm elections. Bachmann is the chair of the first Tea Party caucus in the House, and as the shining star of the movement, she will no doubt look to capitalize on immense support for the Tea Party.
Bachmann will not need to shift any further to the right to woo Republican voters. She has led the charge for the repeal of the healthcare overhaul bill by toning up the rhetoric, labeling it a job-killing bill. She will also undoubtedly look to exploit Romney’s black eye amongst conservatives: the Massachusetts health care bill passed during his governorship. Bachmann’s biggest struggle, however, will be finding support amongst moderate Republicans. Recognizing the challenge, Bachmann has cut down on her earlier gaffes and stayed on message, remaining a strong force in the race.
Bachmann will become a force to be reckoned with as the race progresses. She has defied the odds before, becoming a national figure seemingly overnight, following her election to the House. The hometown favorite could use her roots to win the Iowa caucuses, as current polls have her one point behind Romney, and then use the momentum to get 30 - 40% of the vote in the first-in-the-nation primary. If everything falls into place, we could be well on our way to seeing Bachmann as the Republican nominee for president of the United States.
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