Always Room for One More

Many Republicans can't get enough of Michele Bachmann's provocative rhetoric, which is why she is testing the waters for a 2012 White House run

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Bachmann and her megaphone excite the GOP base

Michele Bachmann's rhetoric can strip paint. The Republican Congresswoman says Barack Obama may hold "anti-American views" and runs a "gangster government." She expresses "grave doubt" about whether America "will ... endure." Global warming is not just unproven but an outright "hoax." And voters and politicians need to "make a covenant, to slit our wrists" in the name of repealing health care.

Many Republicans can't get enough of this sort of talk, which is why Bachmann is testing the waters for a 2012 White House run. Some people dismiss a possible Bachmann run as a publicity stunt. Others say she's not ready for prime time, pointing to her twin gaffes during visits to states that hold early primary votes. (In New Hampshire, she claimed the American Revolution began there, rather than in nearby Massachusetts, and in Iowa, she implied that the Founding Fathers had ended slavery.)

Yet strategists in both parties say Bachmann could upend the GOP primaries if she gets in. "She could certainly have an impact," says Michael DuHaime, who managed Rudy Giuliani's 2008 bid. And that tells you something about the continuing GOP thirst for an exciting candidate in 2012.

The other contenders — former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty — don't yet stir Evangelical Christians and hard-core Tea Partyers who dominate the primary process. A March 15 Gallup survey found that 24% of GOPers hold a "strongly favorable" view of Bachmann. That's second only to the showing for Mike Huckabee and well ahead of that for contenders like Romney, Barbour and Pawlenty. It's one reason she was able to raise a remarkable $13.2 million in her House re-election campaign last year.

It's also a reason to think she could be a force in the Iowa caucuses, the first official vote of the primary process. Voters in Iowa love an underdog, especially a conservative one: evangelist Pat Robertson finished ahead of George H.W. Bush there in 1988, and Huckabee won in 2008.

Bachmann sounds game. Speaking on a conservative radio show earlier this month, she pledged that if she runs, the first thing she would do in a presidential debate "is offer my birth certificate so we can get that off the table."