04.07.11

How Michele Bachmann Can Win

The Minnesota firebrand could parlay her Tea Party support, fundraising skills, and message discipline into a serious run for the White House. She has the fire in the belly, Mark McKinnon writes.

Though prone to gaffes and non-answer answers, she is a formidable fundraiser, an icon among Tea Party enthusiasts, draws cameras like flies, and her detractors are legion. And it's looking more and more likely she will run for president. Also, it's not a stretch to see how she could very likely win Iowa and we know what happens after that.

No, not Sarah Palin. Get ready for a conservative firebrand from Minnesota who may make memories of Palin pale quickly. We are talking about Rep. Michele Bachmann who, while Palin hesitates, has aggressively jumped into the fray. And while she's not my cup of tea (party), Bachmann would arguably be a stronger GOP candidate for president than Palin in 2012. She works harder, she's smarter, she has more discipline, more focus and, perhaps most important, she has fire in her belly.

Chair of the House Tea Party caucus and an outspoken champion of the movement, Bachmann raised more campaign cash in the 2010 congressional midterm elections than any other candidate. And her $2.2 million haul in the first quarter of 2011, mostly from small donors and before she has officially entered the race, tops former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Her “positive intensity” among Republicans and right-leaning independents, as measured by Gallup, is higher than Palin’s, even though her name recognition is far lower. Though political pundits pounce on her every misspeak and mangled factoid, while being far more forgiving of the president’s mispronunciations, and historical inaccuracies, she electrifies crowds and displays unnerving message discipline.

Her upstaging of the GOP’s response to the State of the Union address created consternation within the party, but got at least twice the attention and coverage as did Paul Ryan, who delivered the party’s formal response. Ninety percent of politics is showing up. And Bachmann is showing up in Iowa. And she's creating a lot of excitement among the conservative faithful. And Bachmann would fill the void left by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who decided not to run for president in 2012: She is both a fiscal and social conservative, which is what Iowa Republican primary voters like. If Mike Huckabee doesn't run, and Palin doesn't run, that leaves Rick Santorum as Bachmann's only real competition among these core voters. And he lost his last election by 16 points.

Sarah Palin can't be happy to be suddenly sidelined by a new political American Idol.

Democrats’ 2012 Senate Blues Bachmann’s wooing of the Tea Party vote may pay dividends beyond the base. Rasmussen reports that 48 percent of likely voters say their views on major issues are closer to the average Tea Party member than to the average member of Congress, with 30 percent unsure.

Even with all of the advantages of incumbency, President Obama is vulnerable. With the unpopularity of his health-care agenda, the budget battles in the states, and the coming entitlement crisis, there is a remarkable opportunity for the right candidate—perhaps even a surprising candidate—to win voters from across the political spectrum who are plagued by “persistent fatigue” from the faltering economy and the president’s failure to lead.

Assessing Bachmann’s strength as a candidate, Karl Rove said to Fox’s Bill O'Reilly: "She's smart, she's tough, she's funny, she's got a lot of personality and all of that will help her if she throws her hat in the ring."

However, even with Bachmann’s terms as a state senator and two terms as a U.S. representative, voters may be skeptical of her experience, Rove said. He noted that “people who are going to be inclined to vote against Barack Obama are going to look back and say you know what? We took the untested guy who had no significant achievements and it didn't work out so well.” And Rove said every candidate “has got to create a narrative that at the end of the day says this is why it shouldn't be Obama and this is why it should be me.”

Sarah Palin can't be happy to be suddenly sidelined by a new political American Idol. So, don't be surprised to see her come out swinging hard and soon to reclaim the stage. She will not give up her crown easily.

This could get very entertaining.

As vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton and Public Strategies, and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-founder of No Labels and co-chair of Arts & Labs.