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Bigger threat to Michele Bachmann: Media scrutiny or Rick Perry?

For the moment, Rep. Michele Bachmann has established herself as the top threat to Mitt Romney in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. A series of media investigations could take a toll, but the bigger potential problem is wildcard Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

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In addition, Bachmann has had problems with misstatements. In March she asserted that the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire. More recently, she stated that the Founding Fathers had fought slavery.

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Factual inaccuracies are something “that ultimately goes to trust, so it’s not something that can be ignored,” says Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the Cook Political Report. “You don’t want to become a punchline.”

Ultimately, though, a bigger challenge to Bachmann’s new status as the top conservative challenger to front-runner Mitt Romney is the potential candidacy of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Governor Perry, like Bachmann, is charismatic, popular with the tea party movement, and a proven fundraiser. And his résumé is far more typical of a successful presidential candidate: longtime governor of a big state. In US history, only one sitting House member has been elected president.

Perry also is the only potential candidate in the field who bridges the establishment and tea party wings of the Republican Party – and thus could harness the energy and money of Republicans in a way that Mr. Romney may not be able to.

Signals from people who know Perry point to an increasing likelihood that he will run, but his political advisers say a decision is still weeks away. Iowa polls have not included Perry, but national polls have – and the numbers are encouraging to him. The newest survey, released Wednesday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Center in Hamden, Conn., places Perry in fourth place with 10 percent, behind Romney (25), Bachmann (14), and Sarah Palin (12). Former Alaska Gov. Palin has also not announced her intentions, but seems less likely to run than Perry.

In Iowa, the Real Clear Politics average of recent statewide polls of Republicans shows Bachmann in the lead with 25 percent, followed by Romney at 20 percent. The others, all declared candidates, are in single digits.

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