DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — If there’s any state where Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann could stir the Republican race for president, it’s Iowa.
She was born in Waterloo, giving her a home-field advantage of sorts. The tea party, the GOP’s most energized segment, loves her. So do social conservatives, who cheer her forceful advocacy of gay marriage bans, abortion restrictions and home-school rights.
All are certain to play well with a GOP caucus electorate filled with Christian evangelicals who are emboldened by the clout they wielded in 2008 when they helped former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee win the caucuses.
Yet if she does run, Iowa Republicans say she’ll have to invest time courting them in intimate settings, not just drop by for big speeches. She scrapped a Thursday night trip to Des Moines, where she was to attend a GOP dinner, so she could be in Washington for a vote on anti-terrorism legislation.
“It’s too important for her to miss that vote,” her spokesman, Doug Sachtleben, said. Bachmann still planned to make remarks via video hookup.
Bachmann hoped to arrive in Iowa in time for events on Friday, including a lunchtime speech in Davenport.
The three-term congresswoman will announce her 2012 plans as soon as next week, and advisers describe her as inclined to get into the race.
While in Iowa this week, Bachmann was due to hold private meetings with pastors, business leaders and elected officials. Sachtleben said it wasn’t immediately clear which of the events would still occur. She was also planning to meet with supporters who have been building a network to facilitate a 2012 bid.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of if she’s going to run, I think it’s when she’s going to announce,” said state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a tea party Republican who would take a lead role in a Bachmann campaign. “The people in Iowa are chomping at the bit and ready for her to jump in with both feet.”
She would join a wide-open GOP field that’s becoming clearer with each passing week. Tea party favorite Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, is among those still considering a run, and her candidacy would affect Bachmann because the two would compete for the same pool of voters in Iowa.
If Palin were to run, “Bachmann’s star is going to fade,” said Jeff Jorgensen, chairman of the Pottawattamie County GOP in western Iowa.
But Palin isn’t in the race. Huckabee’s network of supporters and donors in Iowa are up for grabs. Bachmann has made no secret of her attempts to fill the void the Baptist minister left in the race, and suggested in interviews after he bowed out that she was more likely to run.
Bachmann aides say she would run a populist campaign much like Huckabee’s, but with an asset he lacked: the ability to raise enough money to compete in states beyond Iowa if she were to win it. She’s raised more than $2.5 million since she’s been flirting with a White House bid.
She urged her donor base Wednesday to help her meet a $240,000 goal in the 24 hours leading up to her Des Moines speech.
“My family and I are prayerfully considering what the next 18 months or so may bring,” Bachmann wrote in an email pitch. “We’ve seen incredible support pouring in; the Team Bachmann momentum is building and very encouraging as we look to our next steps.”
She’ll need more than money to prevail in Iowa, where voters have come to expect personal and repeated outreach from candidates before making their picks.
Activists say that while she’s forged strong bonds nationally with the libertarian-conservative network, she doesn’t have a local lock on tea party support.
“There’s certainly no way she’s going to come into Iowa and sweep up the entire tea party movement. There’s no way that’s going to happen,” said Charlie Gruschow, a founder of the Des Moines Tea Party. He’s the Iowa state director for former pizza magnate Herman Cain’s campaign, and said Texas Rep. Ron Paul also is attractive to tea party members.
Bachmann is certain to face competition for values voters from former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, both of whom are stressing their faith and records on issues such as opposition to abortion.
Scott Bailey, president of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, said while Bachmann’s experience with home-schooling her own children “gives (members) an initial interest and makes them want to know more,” the connection won’t automatically translate into caucus support.
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