The prospect has energized conservative women who four years ago were deeply uncomfortable with Hillary Rodham Clinton but who see in Bachmann and Palin the kind of family-focused, overtly spiritual candidate whose lifestyle and values seem to mirror their own.
“Who runs the households of America? Women do. Why not the country?” Andrea Ouimette, 64, said at a recent GOP picnic that featured Bachmann as the keynote speaker.
The inclusion of Palin and Bachmann in the mix of candidates caps a blockbuster year in which women were credited with helping the GOP retake control of the House. Women occupy many of the leadership roles in the tea party movement, which reshaped the 2010 midterm elections. Nine GOP women joined the House last year, one joined the Senate, and three won governorships in November.
Bachmann is not considered a front-runner for the nomination. But she has amassed a significant war chest — about $3 million as of March 31 — that virtually assures she will have staying power leading up to the primaries next spring.
Much of the money comes from individual donors, a sign that she has significant grass-roots support, and her Christian credentials make her a contender in the Iowa caucuses.
Palin, though, would no doubt take over the spotlight if she decided to jump into the race. She became a model for a new kind of conservative female leader when she stormed onto the national stage in 2008, with her unapologetic attitude and an infant on her hip. She galvanized a wave of conservative female activists who leapt to her defense when she was ridiculed by comedians and some in the political establishment.
“A lot of us felt like we were getting attacked along with her,” said Teri Christoph, a co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, an online network of about 40,000 conservative women. The group will conduct what its members believe is the first large-scale presidential straw poll of conservative female voters, at its convention in St. Louis next month.
At a recent Bachmann event in New Hampshire, Jan Biller, a nutritional consultant who is debating between supporting Bachmann or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, said a woman could be uniquely qualified for the White House.
“I think women are more in touch with the simple things that people want: enough food, a safe environment for their kids, a good education,” Biller said. “I see all of these things crumbling.”
The rise in political activity among conservative women “is not a radical women’s movement, all out of balance like it was” in the 1960s and ’70s, Biller continued.