“I want this moment to serve as a reminder of the best of who we are as a nation, and of what our values are, and what it is that makes America great,” the Minnesota congresswoman said Monday in a speech officially beginning her campaign here in the town of her birth.
By turning in a savvy performance at a June 13 candidate debate, and tying for first in a recent Des Moines Register poll with front-runner Mitt Romney, Bachmann has forced voters, strategists and her rivals in the race to take her seriously.
If she can sustain her momentum, she could scramble the Republican field, at least in Iowa. She is poised to eclipse former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who has been organizing in Iowa for a year but fared poorly in the poll. And as she solidifies support among Christian conservatives and tea party activists, she could make it difficult for prospective candidates such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to enter the fray.
Despite her strong start, Bachmann faces considerable challenges. She will have to prove that she is more than a conservative firebrand and that she can appeal to broad swaths of voters. She will have to show that she can build a campaign beyond Iowa, where her roots and the Christian conservative base form a natural constituency for her. And she will have to demonstrate that she has what it takes to be a viable opponent to President Obama — the top concern for many Republican voters.
“Michele has an issue with her lack of experience that she has to overcome,” said Steve Deace, a conservative former radio talk show host who was influential in the GOP caucuses in Iowa in 2008.
Although Bachmann hits all the right socially and fiscally conservative talking points, Deace said, “we want to see that she has good staff. That she shows up on time for events. That the campaign doesn’t miss opportunities to capitalize. And if she can prove that beyond being a conservative ideologue she can do the job of commander in chief, she can do just fine.”
The third-term congresswoman with few legislative accomplishments to speak of is seeking to accomplish the unprecedented. Not since James A. Garfield in 1880 has a sitting member of the House won the White House. Never has a woman.
In beginning her campaign Monday, Bachmann related her own history — growing up in a politically mixed family of modest means, becoming an education activist in Minnesota and eventually being elected to Congress.