If Michele Bachmann decides to run for president, a likely possibility considering she will form an exploratory committee this summer, she could be a game-changer in Iowa — and possibly win the caucuses.
“If she does decide to run, Iowa will be incredibly favorable. She’s a natural Tea Party type of a candidate,” says Ryan Rhodes, chair of the Iowa Tea Party.
The Minnesota Republican congresswoman is currently on her fourth visit to Iowa over the past year. This trip, which began with an Iowa homeschooling convention and concluded with Rep. Steve King’s Conservative Principles Conference, gave her the opportunity to burnish her conservative credentials and establish relationships with Iowa’s movers and shakers.
Bachmann, who was born and partly raised in Iowa, is benefiting from her connection to the state. “I don’t think that Iowans look for a person from their state. But it’s a great way to open a speech, it’s just sort of a way to break down some of those barriers,” observes Iowa GOP strategist Bob Haus.
“She’s from Iowa originally, and I think that’s a huge, almost accidental positive that a lot of people have gravitated towards in a presidential candidate,” agrees Rhodes.
But Rhodes also sees her appeal to Iowans as broader than her Hawkeye origins, noting how Bachmann’s personal experience as a homeschooling mother gave her credibility when addressing homeschoolers earlier this week. “She has so many unique stories that are almost perfect for each and every segment,” Rhodes remarks.
Neither should Bachmann be written off as the social-conservative candidate; she’s also proven her appeal to more fiscally oriented voters. Edward Failor, president of Iowans for Tax Relief, says that Bachmann’s January speech to his group drew “a really solid turnout” of 300, with about 30 to 40 percent of them newcomers to the group.
“She has ‘it,’” says Failor, talking about Bachmann’s appeal. “Whatever ‘it’ is, however you define it, that draws people, and that’s a real big benefit for her.”
Ultimately, in what promises to be a crowded GOP 2012 field, personality, not policy, may be key. “Because most of these candidates are probably going to be somewhat similar on the issues, I think caucus-goers will be looking for people that are pretty vocal, adamant about trying [to] push back against the march toward socialism if they’re elected,” says Steve Scheffler, president of Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.
“They are looking for somebody with steel in their spine, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann certainly has that,” he adds.
Another crucial factor could be Bachmann’s longstanding friendship with influential Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King. The two have shared staff, and Bachmann has previously touted King as a possible presidential contender.
“She has a very strong friendship, a professional [and] philosophical friendship with Rep. Steven King, who is a great retail campaigner, who has an immense following in the conservative movement here in the state,” says Haus, adding that he would guess King would endorse Bachmann.
Bachmann, who founded the congressional Tea Party Caucus, is likely to appeal to some voters because of her leadership in the Tea Party movement. “She stood on the steps of the Capitol [arguing] against the health-care bill. She’s been standing against it since day one, and continues to say it must be repealed, and that’s a major, major issue for tea partiers,” observes Rhodes, referring to Bachmann’s 2009 rally against Obamacare.
Bachmann’s lack of executive experience (she was a Minnesota state senator prior to being elected to the House) isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker for voters. “There are other candidates in the race that clearly have that executive [pedigree]. Her appeal is not about being an executive, it’s about the black-and-white philosophical direction of the country,” says Haus, saying that possible Bachmann supporters would probably place executive experience lower on their priority list.
If she does mount a candidacy, the general sense seems to be that she will prove a formidable competitor in the Iowa caucuses. “Michele Bachmann would do extremely well,” remarks Rhodes.
“I think it’s a wide-open field,” Haus says. “Anybody who jumps in and applies maximum effort is going to do well. I think that any preconceived notions about who may or may not be a frontrunner right now are completely wrong.”
“Some of the newer people on the block,” he adds, specifically noting Bachmann and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, “are going to make a tremendous impact this time.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO staff reporter.