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Will Michele Bachmann's gaffes hurt her presidential candidacy?

Flaps about Michele Bachmann's grasp of Colonial history or movie-star birthplaces probably won't mean a lot to many voters. But her misstatements of fact about current political history could be a problem.

By Staff writer / June 28, 2011

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota waves to supporters before making her formal announcement to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Monday, June 27, in Waterloo, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Are Michele Bachmann’s gaffes going to hinder her presidential candidacy?

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You know – stuff like the slip she made Monday about John Wayne. In an interview with Fox News, she said that the iconic movie star was from Waterloo, Iowa, as she is, and that she’d run her campaign in his spirit.

But Mr. Wayne wasn’t from Waterloo. He’s from Winterset, Iowa, which is close to Waterloo, but not the same place, apparently. Notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy is from Waterloo, though.

As comedian David Letterman noted on his show Monday night, this was not a big slip, but it was a mistake right out of the box, as she just officially kicked off her candidacy Monday.

“Do a little homework, just a little bit of homework,” was Mr. Letterman’s advice to Representative Bachmann.

Letterman added that he himself remembers two things about the Duke: He was in a lot of westerns, and he was a heavy smoker.

“I’m not sure how many votes that’s gonna get you,” he said.

Bachmann spent Tuesday morning making the rounds of network news shows, and she wasn’t really pressed about the Wayne thing. But on “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos asked her about something else: her past statement that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.

That’s something most historians would question, seeing that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among others, owned slaves. But Bachmann defended it, saying that one of the Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, worked throughout his life to end the evil practice.

Of course, Adams was not technically a Founding Father. He was more of a founding son: It was his dad, John Adams, who was the second president. Bachmann said he counted anyway.

“He was a young boy, but he was actively involved,” she said.

Anyway, we’ll return to the initial question: Are slips of the tongue going to hinder Bachmann’s progress?

They haven’t so far. Many commentators thought she won the first big debate among GOP presidential contenders earlier this month in New Hampshire. Recent polls show that the Minnesota congresswoman is tied with Mitt Romney for first place among GOP candidates in Iowa, that all-important first caucus state.

And flaps about her grasp of Colonial history and/or movie-star birthplaces probably are not going to mean a lot to many voters. Plus, she doesn’t dwell on them, unlike Sarah Palin. Bachmann moves on, apologizing for a mistake and then pivoting to criticize President Obama’s economic policies.

But there is another aspect of Ms. Palin’s rhetoric that might come back to haunt Bachmann, and that is her out-and-out misstatements of fact about current political history.

On Sunday, for instance, Bachmann said that Mr. Obama had released all the oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. As the fact-checking site PolitiFact notes, that’s not true. He released 4 percent.

PolitiFact on Monday noted dryly that Bachmann is “no stranger” to its researchers. Eleven of her recent statements are rated “false” by the website. Seven earn an even worse rating, “pants on fire.”

Perhaps her handling of facts reflects her general approach to political life. On Tuesday, her former chief of staff published an opinion article in The Des Moines Register that questioned her ability to run the country.

“The Bachmann campaign and congressional offices I inherited were wildly out of control,” wrote former staffer Ron Carey, who is now a supporter of her rival Tim Pawlenty.

Mr. Carey said that he found stacks of unopened letters containing contributions filling her campaign headquarters, and that there were thousands of unanswered communications from constituents in her congressional office.

“If she is unable, or unwilling, to handle the basic duties of a campaign or congressional office, how could she possibly manage the magnitude of the presidency?” wrote Carey.

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