As the Republican race for the White House begins to sort itself out, one thing is becoming clear, Michele Bachmann is the candidate all the others fear.
Among the 11 declared candidates, polls are beginning to suggest that the Minnesota congresswoman is the one with the best chance of upsetting front-runner Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination, and that has put a target on her back for those with longer-shot hopes.
Candidate Tim Pawlenty has led the attacks on Bachmann. He likened her lack of executive experience to that of Barack Obama at the 2008 election. His campaign slogans include “Results not Rhetoric,” a thinly veiled attack on his fellow Minnesotan, and he constantly suggests that she would have no chance of beating Obama if she were to win the Republican nomination.
He claimed her “record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent, adding, “We're not looking for folks who just have speech capabilities, we're looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion."
Last weekend, he renewed the attack through his campaign manager Nick Ayres, who sent an email to supporters about a week-long trip through Iowa. Pawlenty, he said “successfully made the case, that in 2008, voters elected a member of Congress with no executive experience. We can’t afford the cost of inexperience any longer, and Iowans get are getting that.”
Referring to Mitt Romney and Bachmann, Ayres said Pawlenty “also made the case that we have a leading candidate for President who is running from his record and another who doesn't have a record.”
Bachmann finally hit back at Pawlenty’s continued attacks on Sunday. “Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government," she said. "I have demonstrated leadership and the courage of my convictions to change Washington, stop wasteful spending, lower taxes, put Americans back to work and turn our economy around.”
Her campaign then turned the tables on Pawlenty with her own reference to the president. “Governor Pawlenty would have us believe that there is 'very little difference' between his positions and those of Michele Bachmann. But in fact, there is very little difference between Governor Pawlenty’s past positions and Barack Obama’s positions on several critical issues facing Americans.
“On issues such as unconstitutional healthcare mandates, climate change regulations, and Wall Street bailouts, there’s very little daylight, indeed, between Governor Pawlenty’s record and the Obama administration’s policies.
Salon described the infighting between the two Minnesotans as “the first GOP presidential death match,” saying it is becoming more shrill as neighboring Iowa takes center stage in the race for the White House.
Ironically, the revelation nearly two weeks ago that Bachmann suffers from excruciating migraines appears to be helping her as it at least temporarily forced other candidates to lay off for fear that they would be seen to be kicking her when she is down.
“I feel the migraines could help her more than harm her,” independent pollster Matt Towery tells Newsmax. “If it was me and the worst thing they could find about me was migraines, I wouldn’t be too concerned.”
Bachmann’s adept handling of the migraine issue already makes it less likely that it will even be an issue as the race continues. The only concern for her would seem to be if she was struck down by one at a crucial moment.
Within two days of the story's running on the Daily Caller website she released a letter from Congress’ attending physician.
“Your migraines occur infrequently and have known trigger factors of which you are aware and know how to avoid,” wrote Dr. Brian Monahan. “When you do have a migraine, you are able to control it well with as-needed sumatriptan and odansetron. It has not been necessary for you to take daily scheduled medications to manage this condition.”
Bachmann’s response to the migraine story has given her some unlikely admirers. Liberal firebrand Ed Schultz said on his MSNBC show that while he does not agree with her on any political issue, his respect for her had “gone through the roof,” because of the way she dealt with the criticism.
“You were clear, concise, you stood up to it, and you weren’t bullied by these people,” Schultz said. “The Republican establishment obviously fears this candidate.”
Bachmann has hit a nerve among Republican voters which her backers hope will take her all the way to the White House. Despite being a member of Congress she is still seen as an outsider. As she told Newsmax, “It’s just that I haven’t agreed with the establishment way of doing things, because if you look around you the establishment isn’t working so well for us.”
And she said the rise of the tea party has shown that voters don’t trust politicians any more. “They actually have to get involved in their government in order to wrest it away from the politicians so those views will reflect those of the people.
“Otherwise they see we’re going to lose the nation for the next generation.”
It’s that attitude that has made many in the GOP wary of her. They have seen that as Pawlenty’s attacks on Bachmann have grown, his poll numbers among Republicans have plummeted so far that he is now battling to get out from the bottom tier of candidates.
When party grandees worried that Romney’s stance on healthcare while governor of Massachusetts could make him vulnerable during an election race they tried to enlist other present and past state governors to run. But Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie all turned down the opportunity to join the crowded field.
And that has left Bachmann alone among the declared candidates as a constant real threat to Romney in the polls. Her numbers have risen sharply since she announced during the June 13 candidates’ debate in New Hampshire that she would definitely be running for president. Recent polls have consistently given her between 15 and 20 percent of Republican voters, still behind Romney, but well ahead of other candidates who are all now struggling to reach double figures.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll among Republican primary voters put her ratings at 16 percent, up from just 3 percent a month earlier. That same poll gave Pawlenty a mere 2 percent. A Public Policy Poll on July 19 actually put her ahead of Romney by 1 percentage point.
Towery said Bachmann’s early stance that she would not vote for any debt ceiling increase that included raising taxes is standing her in good stead with GOP voters. “She has been in the eye of the storm and has staked a claim on that position which a solid core of Republican voters. What better position is there for her?”
Although Bachmann is in a strong position among declared candidates, the likely entrance of Texas Gov. Rick Perry would hurt her chances, Towery observed. If former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin joins the race, too, she would lose even more support.
But for now, less than two weeks away from the Ames straw poll in Iowa, Bachmann is in position other candidates can only envy.
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