AMES, Iowa — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) faced her first major test as the Iowa frontrunner at Thursday’s debate, and with just two days to go before the Ames Straw Poll, she came out of it with some battle scars but still retaining her frontrunner status.
Bachmann had both good and bad moments during the debate, as a few of her competitors — and even a moderator — made it a point to make her an issue.
Overall, she came out of the debate still looking like the frontrunner in the straw poll, but certainly not bulletproof when it comes to the caucuses several months down the road.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was her chief antagonist, targeting Bachmann from the outset for her lack of achievement as a legislator.
“She’s done wonderful things in her life, but it’s an indisputable fact that her record of results is non-existent,” Pawlenty said, repeating an attack that he’s used previously. Pawlenty also hit Bachmann for being loose with the facts, saying she had “a record of misstating and making false statements.”
Bachmann responded with some attacks of her own, hitting Pawlenty for his past support for cap and trade legislation, as well as a cigarette “fee” that many conservatives have labeled a tax increase.
“That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me,” she said.
The fact that Bachmann felt the need to engage Pawlenty — and repeatedly at that — could have the effect of unnecessarily elevating him as a chief competitor in Iowa. That’s something that Pawlenty badly needs, because to this point, his campaign has yet to hit its stride.
What’s more, some — though not all — saw Bachmann as coming out on the short end of the exchange.
But through it all, Bachmann handled herself with the aplomb that has become characteristic of her early campaign. She didn’t get overly defensive, and she successfully fought back on many of the charges lodged against her.
Moderator Byron York of the Washington Examiner at one point noted Bachmann’s past statement that a wife should “submit” to her husband. He asked her if this is a philosophy she would carry into the White House.
Bachmann was taken aback at first, sarcastically thanking York for the question. But then the candidate, who could rightly be compared to Teflon, found the answer she was looking for.
“What submission means to us is respect,” she said. “I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful, Godly man.”
This kind of response has been a hallmark of Bachmann’s campaign. When Newsweek ran a cover photo that many felt was unflattering of her early this week, Bachmann shrugged it off.
Repeatedly, she has shown a desire to not play the victim when it comes to political attacks, and her response to York’s question successfully cast her as the strong and above-the-fray politician that she aspires to be.
Later in the debate, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) tried his hand at going after Bachmann’s record, suggesting her opposition to raising the debt limit under any circumstances represented “showmanship” rather than “leadership.” Bachmann stood strong, not apologizing for her convictions.
This kind of principled conservative resistance to compromise is what has made Bachmann into the frontrunner in Iowa, and it’s hard to see why she doesn’t remain so after her performance Thursday night.
Expectations for her will be very high at the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday, where anything short of a first-place finish will likely be cast as a loss.
As of this morning, she hasn’t done much to jeopardize that status.
Trouble for Hoekstra: Former congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) may have entered the Republicans Senate primary as the favorite, but upstart candidate Clark Durant just notched three huge endorsements.
Former senator Spencer Abraham (R) and former state GOP chairs Saul Anuzis and Betsy DeVos have all endorsed Durant over Hoekstra.
Those are three of the biggest names in state GOP politics, and Hoekstra’s inability to coalesce the establishment around his candidacy suggests there is uncertainty about his chances.
House super PAC targets three: A new Democratic super PAC targeting Republican House members is up with a six-figure ad campaign going after three GOP incumbents.
The House Majority super PAC will run ads against Reps. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) and Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), hitting them for alleged ethics issues and their votes.
Bachmann’s and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s paths may cross in Iowa on Sunday.
Pawlenty loses a top Bush fundraiser to Perry
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) rebounds in new polling.
An independent group goes up with an ad hitting freshman Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.).
Bachmann gets her very own super PAC.
Mike Huckabee jabs Perry again.
Herman Cain says he’s in for the long haul. (What else would he say, though?)
The Democrats’ Medicare attack resurfaces in a campaign ad in the Nevada special election.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-?) continues to look like he might pack up and head to Washington state to run for reelecction.
The speaker of the New Hampshire state House likes Perry.
“Debt-reduction ‘supercommittee’ set” — Paul Kane and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post
“Guide to the Super Committee” — PBS
“Warren looks poised to run for Senate seat” — Theo Emery, Boston Globe