Michele Bachmann puts up presidential-size fundraising numbers

Rep. Michele Bachmann raised more money in the first quarter of 2011 than presumptive GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney. If she runs for president, she'll have cash, experts say.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks at the Tea Party Patriots 'Continuing Revolution' rally on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the tea party champion from Minnesota, posted strong first-quarter fundraising numbers Friday – stronger than those of putative GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.

And with Congresswoman Bachmann making tell-tale moves toward a presidential campaign, this raises the question: Does former Massachusetts Governor Romney need to worry?

In the first three months of 2011, Bachmann brought in $2.2 million – $1.7 million for her congressional reelection campaign and another $500,000 for her political action committee, MichelePAC, according to her congressional chief of staff, Andy Parrish. Romney raised $1.9 million for his Free & Strong America PAC.

The first quarter of the year before a presidential election is hardly determinative, but in the case of Bachmann, her fundraising numbers are a reminder of her money-raising prowess. In the last election, she raised more money – $13.5 million – than any other House candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And any money she raises for her House reelection can be transferred to another campaign for federal office, including president.

If Bachmann does run for president, she brings big pluses (beyond fundraising) and big minuses to the field.

Like Sarah Palin, who is looking increasingly unlikely to run, she would bring charisma and enthusiastic voters into the process. A recent Gallup poll showed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Bachmann generating the highest “positive intensity” among Republicans, which is based on the difference between strongly favorable and strongly unfavorable opinions. (Mr. Huckabee, too, is looking as if he’s leaning against running.)

On the minus side for Bachmann, she has a fairly thin political resume – two terms in the US House and three terms in the Minnesota Senate. She can be polarizing. And she has a tendency to misspeak, as with her recent assertion that the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire. And then there was that embarrassing unofficial State of the Union response for the tea party in January, when she appeared to be looking off camera.

Still, she has nothing to lose by running for president, analysts say. She can liven up the debates and carry a torch for the small-government, low-tax tea party movement. And if she falls short of the nomination, she can still run for reelection to the House.

“She will be a well-funded candidate; that isn’t her problem,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “Her problem is that most Republicans are going to understand that if they nominate her, they have a small chance of winning in November.”

Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., sees the enthusiasm in polls for people like Bachmann and Palin as a sign of the tea party’s exasperation with President Obama.

“They enjoy charismatic flamethrowers who are indulging their hostility,” Mr. Schier says.

As for Romney, the wealthy former businessman could argue that he’s saving his fundraising firepower for the second quarter of 2011. But in reality, any prospective candidate wants to post strong numbers in each quarter.

“He’s a weak frontrunner,” says Mr. Sabato. “It’s not like he’s in the position of a Ronald Reagan [in 1980] or George H. W. Bush [in 1988].”

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