Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) name is familiar in tea party and Christian conservative circles, and on the liberal blogs that like to skewer her. But the Minnesota congresswoman is less known to the general public, which is why her performance Monday night will be critical to her presidential hopes.

She is not considered a front-runner for the Republican nomination, despite the buzz surrounding her likely presidential bid. She ranked behind Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll of likely Republican voters.

Part of her challenge — and her opportunity Monday night — is that a third of respondents did not know enough about her to say whether they would consider voting for her.

Bachmann, who is expected to formally announce her plans for 2012 this month, will have no trouble drawing attention to herself as the only woman on the stage and as a seasoned public speaker who does not pull punches, especially when it comes to criticizing President Obama.

GOP voters who know her will be watching to see whether she can appear presidential after spending the past four years as a conservative attack dog. They want to know whether she can speak as passionately about the economy as she can about the social issues such as abortion and gay marriage that have been her hallmark.

And, eager for a nominee who can viably take on Obama, they will look for signs that she is willing and able to extend her appeal beyond the part of the base that already backs her.