Michele Bachmann doubles down on ‘Perrycare.’ Will it work?

In a swipe at Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann took flak for suggesting that the HPV vaccine might cause “mental retardation.” But she's not backing down, and "Perrycare" is now her prime target.

Alex Gallardo/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate US Rep. Michele Bachmann greets supporters during a rally for the Orange County Republican Party in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 16.

When Michele Bachmann suggested that the HPV vaccine sixth-grade girls in Texas were ordered to get by Gov. Rick Perry could cause mental retardation, there were several reactions:

Public snickering at a political gaffe; swift rebuttal from medical professionals; and calls from fellow Republicans to drop the subject and move on.

Even Ed Rollins, her former campaign manager and one of the savviest GOP strategists around (who’s still advising her campaign), said she’d goofed – basing her dramatic assertion on something a woman had told her at a rally without checking it out.

Election 101: Ten facts about Michele Bachmann and her presidential bid

"The quicker she admits she made a mistake and moves on, the better she is," Rollins told MSNBC.
"Ms. Bachmann's an emotional person who basically has great feeling for people. I think that's what she was trying to project. Obviously it would have been better if she had stayed on the issue.”

(Emotionalism is a tricky subject for presidential candidates. The place to be is somewhere between Ed Muskie weeping over an insult to his wife in 1972 and Michael Dukakis’s cool, legalistic response in 1988 to a debate question about the death penalty and a hypothetical attack on his wife.)

But rather than back down on the HPV vaccine gaffe, or simply move on to another subject, Bachmann continues to hammer Perry on the issue – the strategy being to go after the GOP front-runner in a way that might peel off some of his tea party support.

"Whether it's Obamacare or Perrycare, I oppose any governor or president who mandates a family's healthcare choices," Bachmann says in a new campaign video. "Especially if the decision-making process occurs behind closed doors, bypassing legislative action, and favors campaign contributors over families."

On Friday night, comedian Jay Leno pressed Bachmann on the “mental retardation” claim.

"The concern is that there's potentially side effects," Bachmann said. “I wasn't speaking as a doctor, I wasn't speaking as a scientist. I was just relating what this woman said." Otherwise known as hearsay on a subject that deserves a more fact-based discussion.

And yet Bachmann may have found a useful wedge here, something that could help her regain her position as the main tea party candidate – especially if Perry commits a major stumble or is the subject of some serious personal or political revelation.

In a way, Bachmann’s current theme ropes in a wide range of potential Republican (and maybe some independent) voters.

The forced vaccination of 11 and 12 year-old girls not only has a taint of Big Brotherism, but “it gives a false sense of assurance to a young woman when she has that that if she's sexually active that she doesn't have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases,” as Bachmann said on the Leno show.

“As a mom of three daughters, I believe that parents are the ones who should decide whether or not our young daughters should receive injections for sexually transmitted diseases,” Bachmann says in her video.

Social conservatives, check.

In raising the HPV vaccine issue, Bachmann also ties Perry to “crony capitalism” – receiving campaign contributions from drug maker Merck, manufacturer of the Gardasil product designed to prevent the HPV virus linked to cervical cancer.

During Monday night’s debate, Perry declared himself “offended” at the suggestion that he “can be bought for $5,000.” In fact, as it turns out, Perry received nearly $30,000 from Merck, most of it before he issued his 2007 executive order mandating the vaccine.

In addition, Perry’s former chief of staff (who now does fund raising for Perry’s presidential campaign) was working as a lobbyist for the drug maker at the time the Texas governor pushed to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for 11 and 12 year-old girls.

So on “crony capitalism” – libertarians and other tea partyers, check.

Turns out Bachmann may be on to something here. If she can just get people to quit asking about the “mental retardation” flub.

Election 101: Ten facts about Michele Bachmann and her presidential bid

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