Michele Bachmann: Is she the Mike Huckabee of 2012?

Like the folksy and articulate Huckabee, Michele Bachmann could appeal to evangelical Christian voters in Iowa. She has even hired his former campaign manager. But can she be more than a spoiler?

Jim Cole/AP
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (l.) talks to CNN's John King as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota joins in during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, on Monday, June 13.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota got a lot of attention for her performance in Monday’s GOP presidential debate. She was polished, articulate, and adept at wedging into answers the fact that she has had lots of foster children. Is she on track to become the Mike Huckabee of the 2012 campaign?

Let’s back up and explain our thinking here. Rep. Bachmann is often compared to Sarah Palin, for obvious reasons. They’re both women. They’re both tea party favorites. They’re both used to the cold, and they’ve both been involved in flaplets about their grasp of US colonial history. (Palin’s involved Paul Revere warning the British. Bachmann mistakenly placed the first shots of the revolution in New Hampshire.)

But Bachmann and Palin are not interchangeable, electorally-speaking. Bachmann is a tax attorney who is good at thinking on her feet and formulating quick responses – you could see that in her above-average debate performance. She knows a lot about policy and isn’t shy about playing up her role as an actual sitting politician.

Plus, she was born in Iowa, and lives in Minnesota, which is next to Iowa, and may be poised to play spoiler in next year’s Iowa caucuses. That’s where the Huckabee analogy comes in.

Mike Huckabee was a folksy, articulate ex-Arkansas governor who exploded into the political stratosphere by winning Iowa in 2008. His win damaged the chances of Mitt Romney, among others.

Bachmann has a good chance to connect with evangelical Christians, a group that’s about 60 percent of Republican Iowa caucus-goers, write University of Virginia political scientists Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik in their most recent update on the 2012 GOP race. If she does well enough she might even knock fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty out of the campaign, according to Messrs. Sabato and Kondik.

“Bachmann could be this cycle’s Iowa-winning Huckabee, and now she’s even hired Huckabee’s former campaign manager, experienced GOP hand Ed Rollins,” write the pair.

Like Huckabee, Bachmann attracts committed followers. Among the current Republican candidates, she has the second highest Positive Intensity Score, according to Gallup. (That’s the percentage of GOP voters who really like her, minus the percentage who really dislike her. Former Godfather’s Pizza chief Herman Cain has the highest PIS.)

But could Bachmann actually win the nomination? Huckabee, after all, quickly discovered that he had a ceiling beyond which he could not rise in many states. In 2008 he finished third in the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries, for example.

Right now, a Bachmann win still looks like a very long shot. She may be rising into the second tier of candidates, but her overall vote remains in the single digits. A Gallup survey completed June 11 found that only about 5 percent of Republican voters named her as their first choice for the nomination. That was behind Rick Santorum, and tied with Newt Gingrich – whose campaign virtually imploded last week.

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