Michele Bachmann hasn’t stolen the spotlight from the other contenders for the Republican presidential ticket since she won the Ames straw poll last summer (except, of course, after making erroneous claims about the HPV vaccine). But she’s stuck out this increasingly unpredictable race, continuing to lag in the polls while first Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and finally Newt Gingrich surged to front-runner status. Pundits are claiming that Gingrich’s star is already fading, leaving precious few candidates who have yet to surge.
So what about Bachmann? She’s still touting herself as a contender in the Iowa caucus, telling Fox News’ Neal Cavuto, “There has been only one election in Iowa so far, the straw poll — and I won it — so I feel very good about that.” And as social issues begin to creep back into a campaign that has been dominated by economic issues, there is some evidence that conservatives are giving Bachmann another look. In an op-ed for the Washington Post last Thursday, conservative analyst Jordan Sekulow declared Bachmann a “top candidate to watch if caucus-goers in Iowa are looking for an alternative to Romney and Gingrich” (he doesn’t mention Ron Paul, who is gaining traction in Iowa, despite some controversial comments about foreign policy during last Thursday’s debate).
In the debate, Bachmann attacked Gingrich on his work for Freddie Mac, as well as his position on abortion, saying that he’d turned down an opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood and defended Republicans who supported partial-birth abortion. According to PRRI’s December Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, Bachmann rivals Gingrich and Romney in overall favorability among voters who identify with the Tea Party (62%, 61%, and 56%, respectively), and even keeps pace with Gingrich in terms of strong favorability (36% vs. 31%), with Romney lagging behind both at 19%.
It’s not all good news for Bachmann – at 41% favorability among Republican voters, compared to Gingrich’s 60% and Romney’s 63%, she could hardly be called a front-runner. White evangelical Protestant voters say that Bachmann (17%) and Perry (16%) are the candidates whose religious beliefs are closest to their own, but abandon Bachmann for Gingrich when it comes to deciding whose political beliefs resonate most strongly with their own (13% say Bachmann’s political views are closest to their own, compared to 25% who say the same of Gingrich).
The show isn’t over yet, and with over two weeks left to the Iowa caucus, there’s no telling what will happen next. It does seem premature to write her off completely, though – and a strong showing In Iowa may lead some conservatives to give her another look.