There’s a new poll out showing Michele Bachmann running second to Mitt Romney among Republican primary voters, following her boffo performance at the New Hampshire GOP presidential debate last Monday. It doesn’t really matter whether the poll is accurate or not. What matters is that it confirms conventional wisdom that she did well at the debate and that she is now a “serious” candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
How serious? We’ll find out in early August, when she competes in the Ames, Iowa straw poll. Mitt Romney has decided to skip the Ames straw poll, preferring to preserve his resources and organizational energy. He’ll get some votes anyway, but not nearly as many as he got the last time (in 2007) when he spent heavily and won it.
So it’s wide open. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is planning to spend 15 days in Iowa in July, in the run-up to the Ames straw poll. He needs to do well there or his campaign will go on life support. He’s still reeling from his unwillingness to go after Mr. Romney (on the issue of “Romneycare”) in the New Hampshire debate. The conventional wisdom now says that he must bounce back from that by winning in Ames.
Which is Michele Bachmann’s golden opportunity. The entire expectations game in the run-up to Ames will revolve around Mr. Pawlenty. Bachmann will be portrayed as the “challenger” and the “underdog.” If she can convert her Tea Party and Right To Life network support into a strong showing (or better yet, for her, a “win”) in Ames, Pawlenty will be grievously wounded and she will become the champion of GOP social conservatives.
That would be a position of considerable strength, as social conservatives comprise a majority of GOP primary voters and caucus attenders. It would also effectively close the door on Sarah Palin, who may not want to run anyway, but who must decide before summer’s end whether to do so or not. A Bachmann victory in Ames would make that decision easy: Palin can drop out of the race and return to being a widely beloved figure within her party. Republicans love Sarah Palin completely when she’s not a possible GOP presidential nominee.
A while back, we wrote that Iowa and New Hampshire would determine, quickly and decisively, who will be the two remaining candidates for the GOP nomination. It was ever thus and it is happening again. Iowa determines who will be the “social conservative” GOP candidate. New Hampshire picks the “traditional” and/or “maverick” GOP candidate. Bachmann has a good shot at being the candidate of GOP social conservatives.
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