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Michele Bachmann’s star turn

at 08:09 AM ET, 06/14/2011


Congresswoman Michele Bachmann speaks during the first 2012 Republican presidential candidates' debate in Manchester, New Hampshire June 13, 2011. (AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel DUNAND)
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann came into Monday night’s presidential debate in the Queen City as an unknown commodity. She left it as the most talked-about candidate in the 2012 GOP field.

Bachmann stole headlines at the start by announcing that she had filed to run for president — skipping the exploratory phase entirely — and then proceeding to command the stage in the first hour of the CNN-sponsored debate with quotable answers on every question asked of her. The crowd assembled at Saint Anselm College broke into spontaneous applause after several of Bachmann’s answers

“She knows what she believes and why she believes it,” Bachmann pollster Ed Goeas said in the post-debate spin room. “She is a very good communicator.”

For Bachmann, the debate amounted to a coming-out party — a 120-minute declaration that she is someone to be reckoned with in the race.

Her personal story — she was raised by a single mother, and she and her husband have raised five children of their own and 23 foster kids — is compelling, and Bachmann made certain to tell it as many ways as possible. (She mentioned her foster children on three separate occasions.)

And her issue positions and rhetoric painted a political world of black and white, which is an appealing image for Republican primary voters. Over the course of the night, Bachmann noted her work in Congress to repeal President Obama’s health-care law, quoted then-senator Obama to justify her opposition to raising the debt ceiling and said the Environmental Protection Agency should change its name to the “job-killing organization of America.” (Not sure that one is going to happen.)

Sometimes, however, Bachmann’s tendency to cast every issue in sharp relief gets her into trouble; on Monday night, she said she believed the decision on same-sex marriage should be left to the states, but then after other candidates said they supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Bachmann tried to jump on board with that as well. Those two positions would appear to be at odds with each other.

And, questions remain about Bachmann’s ability to appeal to voters outside of the Republican base — particularly if she winds up as the GOP nominee against Obama next November. That question is particularly relevant given that new data from CNN and Gallup suggests that the top priority for Republican voters is finding a candidate who can beat Obama next fall.

Goeas rejected the idea that his candidate was too conservative to appeal to the broad middle. “For better or worse, this president has been true to his ideology,” said Goeas, adding that the campaign to come will be over the “role of government” in everyday life.

That debate remains far down the road, however. In the coming days, Bachmann will almost certainly benefit from her performance here Monday night. How — and whether — she uses that momentum will be a telling indicator of her staying power in the race.

Pawlenty’s performance: More than anyone except perhaps Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty missed an opportunity on Monday night.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns talk to several big-name GOP consultants who all agreed that Pawlenty flubbed his chance.

With a succession of other well-regarded candidates passing on the race and a couple more still considering getting in, Pawlenty could have secured his place as the real alternative to Mitt Romney.

Instead, Pawlenty deflected repeatedly when asked to double down on his criticism of Romney’s health care bill as “Obamneycare,” and in the process left many people dumbfounded.

As we noted in our liveblog Monday night, why even use that attack in the first place — and on the Sunday morning talk shows, no less — unless you’re prepared to follow through with it? Pawlenty came off is a little unsure of himself on Monday, and that has to have former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry licking their chops.

Redistricting proposal in Wisconsin: A GOP plan for redistricting is circulating in Wisconsin, with freshman Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) looking like the main beneficiary.

As we wrote in March, Duffy’s Democratic-leaning northwest Wisconsin district needs more help than the state’s other GOP-held seats. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel now reports the proposed map would do just that, by swapping territory with Democratic Rep. Ron Kind (D) to Duffy’s south, as we had suggested before.

The map hasn’t been officially released and could still change, but the Republicans’ decision to pack more Democrats into what is currently a winnable district like Kind’s in order to save Duffy is probably a smart one. Without doing so, the GOP risked being over-extended in a blue-leaning state.

Fixbits:

Former congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth (D) is leaving her post at the Department of Veterans Affairs, our colleague Ed O’Keefe reports, and appears set to run in a newly drawn congressional district back in her home state of Illinois. She appears likely to run in the 8th district, but could face a significant primary.

Freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R) has opened two political action committees.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) makes the World Champion Dallas Mavericks honorary Ohioans for defeating the state’s Prodigal Son, LeBron James, in the NBA Finals.

The Federal Election Commission has closed its file on Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), whose former business has come under scrutiny for allegedly funneling contributions to his campaigns.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is steady with a 39 percent approval rating and a 38 percent disapproval in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, but voters disapprove of his work on the budget by a 52 percent-to-33 percent margin.

Obama is going to Puerto Rico.

It looks like the GOP-controlled New York state Senate will vote on a gay marriage bill this week, and it just might pass.

Sharron Angle writes a book.

Must-reads:

Buchanan was target of federal investigation” — Jeremy Wallace, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Kansas Rep. Huelskamp waives fight for subsidies, warns farmers to ‘expect less’” — Philip Rucker, The Washington Post

Debate Swings Door Open for Perry, Closed For Palin” — Nate Silver, New York Times

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk using gravitas of office to influence home-state politics, policy” — Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune

Candidates Run Against Regulation” — Jonathan Weisman and Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

YOUR TAKE: Did Bachmann really hit it out of the park?

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