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Why Michele Bachmann is no Sarah Palin

Newsweek's Washington Bureau Chief warns that Rep. Michele Bachmann should not be underestimated as a presidential contender in the 2012 race.

June 15, 2011

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minn. talks to CNN's John King, l during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate on June 13, 2011.

Jim Cole/AP

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By Howard Kurtz

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Newsweek/Daily Beast

Michele Bachmann all but stole the show at the Republican presidential debate.

The only woman on the New Hampshire stage deftly utilized the CNN spotlight Monday night to announce that she filed her papers to officially run for president, setting off a flood of breaking-news alerts in the event’s opening moments. But she accomplished far more than that.

The Minnesota congresswoman got the first audience roar of the night, promising that Barack Obama would be a one-term president.

She offered a passionate and inclusive defense of the Tea Party, saying that unlike the distorted picture painted by the media, the movement includes “disaffected Democrats,” “independents,” “libertarians” and “people who have never been political a day in their lives.” That, she declares, “is why the left fears it so much.”

She even positioned herself as a truth-teller, saying she “fought against my own party” behind closed doors by opposing the Bush administration’s much-reviled TARP bailout plan.

Not bad for a rookie who kept smiling as she reeled off her best lines.

In fact, Bachmann equivocated only once, when she couldn’t choose between Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Go figure.

Bachmann is relatively new to the national stage, but as anyone who has watched her in action understands, she knows how to play this game.

Many people think of Bachmann and Sarah Palin as cut from the same cloth, but beyond their obvious similarities as outspoken conservative women, they are distinctly different. Bachmann, a decade older at 55, had a career as a tax lawyer and is well versed in the finer points of legislation. She is not only a third-term House member but spent a half-dozen years before that in the Minnesota Senate.

“I will not rest until Obamacare is repealed…It’s a promise, take it to the bank, cash the check.”

And as she reminded the audience at St. Anselm College several times, once in touting her pro-life stance, she has five children and is the “proud foster parent of 23 great children.”

Bachmann is no stranger to Washington television studios; rather than denounce the lamestream media, she engages, and is well practiced in the art of the cable interview, even on such contentious forums as Hardball.

Bachmann also doesn’t have to explain, as Palin does, why she walked away from her biggest job in the middle of her term.

Like Palin, Bachmann generates headlines for saying flamboyant things, such as once suggesting that members of Congress be investigated for anti-American tendencies. But she did none of that Monday night.

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