Two key tests for Michele Bachmann and her presidential bid

Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her presidential candidacy Monday, saying she is a 'bold choice.' Can she win the Iowa caucuses? And can she broaden her appeal beyond the tea party?

Jeff Haynes/Reuters
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), addresses a gathering of supporters to formally launch her campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in her childhood hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, June 27. Bachmann, a rising star of the conservative Tea Party movement, leaped into the race for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination on Monday and said the country cannot afford four more years of President Barack Obama.

Michele Bachmann stood near her girlhood home in Waterloo, Iowa, on Monday and announced her presidential candidacy, saying she is a “bold choice” and that under her leadership the country could “secure the promise of the future for America.”

Ms. Bachmann, a favorite of tea party voters and a three-term member of the US House representing Minnesota, stressed her tries to Iowa. The state is home to the February 2012 caucuses, which will be the first of the presidential nominating season. “Everything I need to know I learned in Iowa,” she told the crowd.

A tax lawyer by training, Bachmann faces two political tests. First, she has to win her home state’s influential caucus to be considered a viable contender. Second, she has to broaden her appeal beyond the tea party enthusiasts who have helped fuel her rise to prominence. Bachmann is the founder of the House of Representative’s Tea Party Caucus.

At this early stage in the race, Bachmann is in a strong position in Iowa. A poll of likely Republican voters in the Iowa caucus, commissioned by The Des Moines Register and released over the weekend, shows her in a statistical dead heat with Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney, who is making less of a push in the state than he did in 2008, had 23 percent support, followed by Bachmann at 22 percent. Former pizza chain executive Herman Cain, who also has tea party support, came in third with 10 percent.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has been traveling to Iowa for more than a year, fared poorly in the Register poll, pulling only 6 percent of voter support.

Polling experts caution that early snapshots of voter support for the Iowa caucus are not always a reliable indicator of the winner. As ABC News' “The Note” pointed out, in May 2007 the same poll showed Romney leading the pack in Iowa with 29 percent. The eventual winner was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but in early polling he posted only single digits.

As for increasing her appeal, Bachmann faced tough questions over the weekend about her credibility. In a pre-announcement appearance on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace asked her, “Are you a flake?” and alluded to inaccurate statements she had made in the past. A recent Associated Press story noted that Bachmann inaccurately claimed taxpayers would have to foot a $200-million-a-day tab for a trip President Obama made in India. She also accused the president of running a “gangster government.”

Bachmann kept her poise when responding to Mr. Wallace, saying, “I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I’m a serious person.” After the program, Wallace apologize for his choice of words. In an interview with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Bachmann refused to accept the apology.

While Bachmann’s appeal outside her home state remains to be proved, she has assembled a skilled political team. As CNN political reporter Peter Hamby recently noted, Bachmann’s team is led by Ed Rollins, who managed Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide reelection and Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign. Her pollster is GOP veteran Ed Goeas, who had worked for the McCain campaign and was helping Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour before he decided against running for president this year.

One unknown is whether former GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin will enter the presidential race – and how that would affect support for Bachmann. So far, though, has devoted much more effort to building a political team than has Ms. Palin.

Just to keep things interesting, Palin is slated to travel to Iowa on Tuesday to attend a premier of “The Undefeated,” a movie about her political rise. It is the second time Palin has shown up after a potential rival has announced for the presidency. The last time was in New Hampshire after Mitt Romney announced his candidacy.

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