03.24.11

Is Michele Bachmann Just Teasing?

The Tea Party favorite is reportedly set on launching an exploratory committee for 2012. Howard Kurtz reports on whether she’s serious and how she can beat low expectations, especially in Iowa.

Michele Bachmann’s five-day swing through Iowa just got a whole lot more interesting.

The Minnesota congresswoman, a darling of the Tea Party set, is getting serious about running for president—or serious enough that her folks leaked word that she plans to form an exploratory committee in June. Putting out such a story so far in advance is a highly unusual way to throw your hat into the presidential ring, but Bachmann is a master at garnering media attention.

The CNN report, which said Bachmann could form the committee earlier, also disclosed that she has tapped Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to be her political director in the pivotal caucus state.

Is this just a tease? Bachmann used decidedly ambivalent language in an interview published Thursday with ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “I’m in for 2012 in that I want to be a part of the conversation in making sure that President Obama only serves one term, not two, because I want to make sure that we get someone who’s going to be making the country work again. That’s what I’m in for. But I haven’t made a decision yet to announce, obviously, if I’m a candidate or not, but I’m in for the conversation.”

Bachmann could surprise people, especially in Iowa, where her sharp-edged approach could resonate with socially conservative caucus-goers.

This is what is known as sending mixed messages.

If she does run, Bachmann would appear to be just another long-shot contender. But she could surprise people, especially in Iowa, where her sharp-edged approach could resonate with socially conservative caucus-goers.

With Sarah Palin increasingly unlikely to run, at least in the estimation of Republican power brokers, Bachmann would be the only woman in a somewhat drab field. If Mike Huckabee, the 2008 winner in Iowa, decides he’d rather make more money at Fox News than slog through another campaign, she would have a strong shot at Iowa’s evangelical Christian voters.

Bachmann would also have a geographic edge by hailing from a neighboring state—and could draw attention from her fellow Minnesotan, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who just formed an actual exploratory committee rather than just talk about it.

Bachmann is a dynamic speaker who drew positive notices at last month’s CPAC conference, where she warned college students that if conservatism doesn’t triumph in 2012, “70 to 75 percent of your income will be taken away by the government in your peak earning years” and America would become Greece. She also said there are “threats to the moral grounding of this nation.” She has a gift for over-the-top rhetoric, telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in 2008 that the media should do a “penetrating expose” of which members of Congress as “anti-American.”

On the other hand, the three-term lawmaker, who failed in a bid to win a House leadership post this year, could have trouble raising enough money to be competitive. And she is somewhat gaffe-prone. During a campaign-style visit to New Hampshire earlier this month, she mangled her Revolutionary War history by proclaiming: “You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” Those towns are in Massachusetts. Bachmann ripped the media for focusing on the blunder, saying news organizations ignore similar screwups by liberal politicians.

Whether she launches a serious campaign or is engaged in Trump-like showmanship, Bachmann is certain to liven up the presidential preseason.

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.