Mark Halperin’s Big Questions in the new issue of TIME on the rise of the Gentlelady from Minnesota.
Why has Michele Bachmann suddenly become the It candidate?
With her impressive New Hampshire debate performance, Bachmann has gone from a conservative Sarah Palin—lite curiosity to a potential game changer. For two hours onstage with her GOP rivals, Bachmann appeared polished, serene and in command. Her smooth performance was partly the work of a top-shelf team of veteran advisers (manager Ed Rollins, pollster Ed Goeas, forensic coach Brett O’Donnell). They sanded down some of her rough edges but let Bachmann be Bachmann, complete with zinging anti-Obama applause lines and sunny-side-up conservatism.
Does she have a shot at the nomination?
Not a great shot but a real one. If Tim Pawlenty fails to catch fire, Jon Huntsman flames out and Rick Perry and Palin take a pass, Bachmann can win the Iowa caucuses and head into a one-on-one matchup with front runner Mitt Romney. She may also benefit from being the only woman in a
testosterone-fueled field. Unlike previous insurgents who fell short (Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee), Bachmann is a formidable fundraiser who should be able to buy plenty of TV airtime to go with an energized ground game.
What does she need to do now?
Keep emphasizing her outsider-in-Washington cred and her experience fighting
Obama—and, before that, George W. Bush when he deviated from the rightward path. Trust in her strategists’ plans to make her seem like a plausible nominee and President. Most of all: avoid the kinds of gaffes, misstatements, self–promotional moments and wacky behavior that would cause
the media and many traditional Republicans to — once again — write her off.