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Why Michele Bachmann Could Challenge Barack Obama In 2012


Who says debates don't matter?

Following her breakout performance in Monday's New Hampshire GOP debate, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann has rocketed into Michele Bachmannsecond place behind Mitt Romney in the latest primary poll by Rasmussen. Bachmann received 19 percent support to Romney's 33 percent, while the rest of the field lagged far behind.

Critics point out her lack of experience on a national stage, her embarrassing gaffes in discussing American history, the turmoil and turnover in her small House staff, the fact that she has only fledgling or non-existent political organizations in the key early states. Not since the 19th century, when James Garfield won the Presidency, has a sitting member of the House been elected president.

Some pundits are wondering if she is just the flavor of the month or if she can really challenge Romney for the G.O.P. nomination.

I think she is for real. Here are four reasons why.

1. She is a More Refined Version of Sarah Palin.

For conservative voters, this is a huge plus. She can energize the base like Sarah Palin, but lacks most of her negatives. There are some striking similarities. Both are former beauty pageant contestants; both are strongly pro-life; and both have strong Tea Party support. And like Palin, she can dazzle an audience.

Bachmann stole headlines at the start of Monday’s debate by announcing that she had filed to run for president — skipping the exploratory phase entirely — and then proceeding to command the stage in the first hour of the CNN-sponsored debate with quotable answers on every question asked of her. The crowd assembled at Saint Anselm College broke into spontaneous applause after several of Bachmann’s answers.

But here is why Bachmann is a better version than Palin. Bachmann has dedicated herself to mastering the Washington political world at the very time that Palin decided to resign as Alaska governor to launch a brand new career as a reality star and media-political celebrity.

Clearly, both women share a reputation as spunky and deeply conservative Christian firebrands, but Bachmann, who is the head of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, is deeply immersed in the Tea Party, and remains fiercely loyal to it.  Palin, on the other hand, has frequently chosen to back GOP establishment candidates seeking to defeat their Tea Party rivals – which has made her sympathies, compared to Bachmann’s, increasingly suspect.

But the biggest difference, in fact, is the assessment of critics and supporters alike of their political skills.  As Bachmann showed last Monday, she’s not a figure who feels compelled to hide from the media, or to avoid the high-pressure, rough-and-tumble, give-and-take of a nationally televised debate.  Throughout Monday’s debate, a polished, clearly well-prepared Bachmann appeared to consistently impress the audience and political pundits.

Contrast that with some of Sarah Palin’s dreadful performances.

2. Conservatives Are Not Comfortable With Romney.

Most conservatives are uncomfortable with Romney’s conservative credentials. In a Senate bid in 1994 against Ted Kennedy, Romney said he was pro-choice. As the Governor of Massachusetts, in 2006, he signed into law a state-wide health care plan that was the prototype for President Obama's version and gave national health care a huge political boost.

This healthcare plan is Romney’s largest obstacle to obtaining the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama in 2012. This is the same law that Democrats used as a model for their own health care mandate, which the Republican Party and especially Tea Party have opposed so vehemently.

Mr. Romney now claims ObamaCare should be repealed, but his failure to explain his own role in the Massachusetts health care plan or admit any errors in the plan suggests serious flaws both in his candidacy and as a potential President.

By contrast, Bachmann is a little more confrontational on the subject:

“Obamacare, as we know, is the crown jewel of socialism,” said Bachmann. “It is socialized medicine.”

Yes, Bachmann’s promises to destroy Obamacare score major points with the conservative faithful. But this also resonates with independents, who in a recent CNN poll, opposed Obamacare, 60 percent compared to the 35 percent who do not.

3. She Could Win the Iowa Caucus

Especially since Mike Huckabee, who won there in 2008, is not campaigning, Bachmann will secure the social conservative vote.

The one-on-one retail politics of the Iowa caucuses will play to Rep. Bachmann’s strengths. With her hometown roots and proven ability to raise money, there is every reason to expect her to do well there.

To succeed after Iowa, Bachmann will need to harness her media charisma to become a more refined candidate who is well versed on the substantive issues (jobs, economy, foreign policy) and who demonstrates consistent message discipline on the campaign trail. If she can do that, we could see her on stage for a lot more debates.

And some future primary victories.

4. 2012 Could Be Like 2008

In 2008, an inexperienced member of Congress, Barack Obama challenged the Democratic establishment by running against their selected candidate, Hillary Clinton. Thanks to his stage presence, grass roots organization, and his compelling personal narrative, the upstart Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in a nomination challenge.

Can history repeat itself-- this time in the other party’s nomination process? You bet.

Bachmann is considered a relatively inexperienced politician.  Bachmann has a charismatic stage presence. Bachmann, unlike most Republican candidates, has very strong grass roots support thanks to the Tea Party. And Bachmann has an inspiring personal narrative, too.  A single mother raised her, and she and her husband have raised five children of their own and 23 foster kids.

And Romney could be this year’s version of Clinton.

At this time four years ago, nobody would have even imagined that Hillary Clinton could have possibly lose the nomination to a first year Senator.  But it happened.

Writer George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

Those who continue to underestimate Bachmann should heed Mr. Santayana’s words.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com

Photo credit: AP

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