Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite considering a run for president in 2012, speaks at a Republican fundraiser in Archbold, Ohio, last week. (AP Photo/JD Pooley)

Ask just about any political observer these days, and the answer is almost unequivocally “no” — at least, when it comes to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

But there is also plenty of reason to believe that Palin’s re-emergence into the political stratosphere could be an asset to Bachmann. Provided that Palin doesn’t actually run for president in 2012, of course, and Bachmann does.

Conventional wisdom holds that the problem for Bachmann is that she is Palin — only less well-known among Republicans.

And that’s true — to a point. But there’s also a case to be made that a Palin presence in the pre-race could ultimately help Bachmann.

Here’s how:

Palin has been a closely guarded politician — to say the least — during her time in the national spotlight. (Remember the period when she wasn’t granting interviews during the 2008 presidential campaign?) And since her time as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, she has communicated almost exclusively through social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Palin doesn’t work much with the mainstream media, and that is just fine for some things. Running for president, though, is not one of them.

It remains to be seen how much access the media will have to her during her bus tour this weekend, but you can rest assured there will be plenty of coverage, and Palin’s every move will be scrutinized.

This is not, typically, when Palin shines.

Palin’s problem is that, while she used to be the conservative hero that everyone wanted to know more about, the luster has faded a bit, and the American public is increasingly skeptical about her. Her poll numbers have dropped — even among conservatives — and 60 percent of people now say they would never vote for her.

Of course, Palin could hop on the bus, wow everyone and improve that image. But if she continues to have the kinds of troubles she has had in the past, the whole thing could backfire.

Enter Bachmann.

While Bachmann is often seen as Palin Lite, keen political observers note that she’s better on her feet, a sharper speaker and, when you drill down to it, has a more attractive profile.

Bachmann also has the luxury of building her own brand over the next few months. And because we know she can raise money and attract attention, that image will be presented for the American people to make a decision about her.

Basically: If Bachmann can come off as a more serious, more reasoned and smarter politician than Palin, she could help herself immensely in the actual presidential race, not the fantasy sweepstakes currently occuring among Republican candidates. And Palin’s bus tour gives Bachmann a chance to effectively draw that contrast.

Right now, many in the chattering classes still see Bachmann as a back-bench House member who might do well in Iowa but won’t be able to sustain a real presidential campaign. And if Palin actually runs, she will undoubtedly steal some — if not most — of the votes that Bachmann would have gotten in Iowa and beyond.

But if Palin doesn’t run or does run and flames out early, and Bachmann can come across as the anti-Palin, that contrast with Palin could prove very valuable for her. And what was seen as a potential death knell could become a real asset.