Can Rep. Michele Bachmann(R-Minn.) use the Fox News GOP debate Thursday night to stop Texas Gov. Rick Perry from consolidating the conservative vote?

In the debate in Tampa earlier this month, Bachmann hammered Perry for trying to force all teenagers in Texas to get a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. (She later falsely suggested the vaccine could lead to mental retardation.) It was an obvious attempt to blunt the momentum of Perry among tea party activists and social conservatives, who Bachmann needs to have any chance of getting the GOP presidential nomination.

Bachmann is now running effectively an Iowa presidential campaign, hoping a win in the caucuses can give her the momentum to compete in other states. Her principal rival there is Perry, and she is likely to find any opportunity she can to run to Perry’s right.

Polls suggest Perry is walloping Bachmann among the voters nationally (a Gallup poll released Monday showed Perry at 31 percent, Bachmann at 5 percent), but it’s not clear the margin is as large in Iowa, where polling has been more limited and Bachmann won the straw poll last month.

The debate comes amid a series of signs Bachmann’s campaign is flagging. Ed Rollins, who stepped down earlier this month from his post as Bachmann’s campaign manager, has suggested the congresswoman doesn’t have enough money to continue campaigning unless she wins in Iowa. A survey of Republican insiders conducted by the Huffington Post found key party figures view Bachmann as less electable than not only Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but even former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.


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