It feels a bit cliché to keep comparing Michele Bachmann to Sarah Palin, but it's hard to escape the trap. Sarah Palin looms as such a large figure among Republicans and the two women are just similar enough. Married for decades each with five children a piece, they are both relative newcomers to the national scene. With fiery Tea Party views they share an affinity for turning cups of hot coffee over into the laps of the national commentariat while looking everyone calmly in the eye with a smile as if nothing spectacular has occurred. Neither of these women would be my choice for president, but despite their surface similarities, I think Michele Bachmann might smoke Sarah Palin in a race between the two for the GOP nomination and that opinion has little to do with the recent Des Moines Register poll that has her statistically tied with Mitt Romney.
First, Bachmann has shown the ability to grow on the national stage. Her past statements suggest she is homophobic and she rejects the science around global warming, but in recent appearances she has been willing to tone down her hot rhetoric and present a more pleasant face for her views. Just this week when talking to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, she was asked whether or not she believed homosexuality was a choice. Instead of taking the bait, she demurred by telling the veteran CBS host, "I'm not running to be anybody's judge." It didn't really satisfy Schieffer, but was a reasonable enough pivot point to get back to her core message of beating up Barack Obama on the economy. At the CNN/WMUR debate in New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, Bachmann gained the most by basically proving she wasn't a fire-breathing dragon and that she could focus on the proper camera during a national appearance.
Both Palin and Bachmann have proven they can raise money, but the Minnesota congresswoman looks like a more organized and tested campaigner. Bachmann raised more than $11 million dollars for her last race, beating a Democrat with $8.8 million to spend and support from the entire national party including former President Bill Clinton. She's sure to bring in an impressive haul for her presidential race also. This brings up another point: Bachman has been reelected twice, while Palin resigned before having to face voters for a second term as Alaska's governor, avoiding the scrutiny of a high profile reelection campaign.
Political professionals focus on quantifiable things like money, field organization and endorsements when analyzing a campaign, but there are more intangible aspects to a candidate's potential that mean just as much, if not more. Bachmann like Palin has a star quality. Even when she gets historical facts wrong, she does it with such force and certitude that her supporters want to believe her or don't want to care.
Sometimes, being an attractive woman can hurt a female candidate. Men tend to underestimate them and other women regard them suspiciously, but despite Bachmann's good looks her record as a mother of five and foster parent of 23 children makes her seem so much more accessible. Forget governing a state, she has managed what could only mildly be called a hectic household. Add to that the touches of a flat and tinny twang common across upper Midwest states like Wisconsin and Minnesota and it's clear that she ain't east coast establishment like Mitt Romney.
Finally, there is that last intangible that means so much in presidential politics. Michelle Bachmann might just want it more than Sarah Palin. While Palin has been shooting reality TV shows, preparing for movie premiers and giving speeches between television appearances on Fox News, Bachmann has been trudging across the farmlands of Iowa and building an actual political organization. One shouldn't be dragged, prodded or coaxed into a presidential campaign and if Sarah Palin doesn't want to be President more than anything else in her life, she should really just stay home or in the pundit's chair.
Bachmann is far from a perfect candidate. Other than her backwards social views and historical misstatements, her prescription for solving the budget crisis rejects the necessary revenue increases every bipartisan plan includes. While she may be dead in the water as a general election candidate, her views, drive and abilities might just help her make a real contest of it in the Republican primaries and finally take Sarah Palin down for good.