It was supposed to have been a big moment for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota — headlining a Republican dinner in Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city, ahead of a potential presidential campaign announcement next month.
Then a late vote in Congress kept her in Washington last night and a political shadow appeared, as Sarah Palin announced a multiday East Coast campaign-style bus tour that will kick off with a May 29 appearance at a motorcycle rally for veterans in Washington.
Palin’s “One Nation Tour” is stirring speculation that she will enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination, in which she and Bachmann would compete for much the same constituency.
“I think she is trying to make a preemptive strike to maybe convince Bachmann not to run,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University in Ames.
The Iowa caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 6, kick off the 2012 presidential nominating contests. Bachmann, whom Palin helped to boost onto the national stage, stands to be especially hurt if the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee enters the race.
Bystrom said that if both women were to run in Iowa, neither would win the caucuses because they would split the vote of Tea Party activists and social conservatives.
The Republican field appears to be solidifying [wouldn't congealing be a better word?]. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, real estate developer Donald Trump and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour have all announced in recent weeks that they wouldn’t enter the contest.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty formally entered the race May 23 with an announcement in Des Moines. Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, visited Iowa today for the first time this year; his campaign said yesterday that he would announce his candidacy on June 2.
Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, so his decision not to run provides an opening for those who can appeal to the social conservatives who were his most loyal supporters.
In the 2008 Republican caucuses, 60 percent of participants described themselves in entrance polls as born-again or evangelical Christians.
Charlie Black, a lobbyist and Republican strategist who is neutral in the party’s race, said Bachmann “has gotten a real head of steam up and is generating a lot of support among the social conservative and evangelicals that Palin would need” to mount a successful presidential bid.
That may have played a role in persuading Palin to reassert herself on the public stage, with an eye toward preserving the option of launching a presidential bid, he said.
Bachmann, 55, belatedly made it to Iowa today and during an interview on “Iowa Press,” a statewide public television show that is a frequent stop for presidential candidates, she said she has been praying about the decision over her presidential announcement.
After her television interview, Bachmann told reporters that she doesn’t believe Palin timed her announcement to overshadow her.
“I didn’t take it that way at all,” she said. “I consider Governor Palin a friend and colleague. Whatever her plans are, I wish her well in her plans. The decision I’m making is completely independent and unique of any other candidate.”
Republican activists said they were eager to see Bachmann join the field, and think that she could be a strong contender.
“She does well with social conservatives and fiscal conservatives and she does well with the Tea Party people,” said Kevin McLaughlin, chairman of the Republican Party in Polk County, Iowa’s largest. “She certainly will be a player.”
Nationally, in a Gallup poll released yesterday, Bachmann trails Romney, Palin and other official and prospective Republican candidates. Romney had 17 percent and Palin was second with 15 percent in the survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Bachmann received 5 percent.
Also ahead of her were Representative Ron Paul of Texas (10 percent) former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (9 percent), businessman and one-time talk radio host Herman Cain (8 percent) and Pawlenty (6 percent).
Bachmann said in an April 29 interview that her strategy would be to marry support from socially conservative voters in Iowa and South Carolina with that of Tea Party backers in New Hampshire.
She has become an uncompromising spokeswoman for conservative positions on social and fiscal issues, prodding Republican leaders not to cooperate with President Barack Obama’s administration. Inflammatory comments she has made — she suggested during the 2008 presidential campaign that Obama may have “anti-American views” and recently compared the national debt to the Holocaust — have raised questions about her prospects as a presidential candidate.