DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Desperate for a late lift in Iowa, Republican Michele Bachmann is increasingly stressing a distinction in the presidential field: She’s the only woman competing for the nomination.

The Minnesota congresswoman has made the gender card central to her closing argument. She’s urging voters to embrace the idea of a “strong woman in the White House” and is molding herself as “America’s Iron Lady” in the vein of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

It’s a play that carries as much risk as potential reward because some of the ardent religious conservatives she’s aggressively courting have traditional views about gender roles.

History is not on Bachmann’s side, either. Iowa has never elected a woman as governor or to its congressional delegation, a footnote shared only with Mississippi.

It was only a few years ago when GOP presidential nominee John McCain energized his campaign by putting Sarah Palin on the ticket, inspiring a hot pink-shirted army of voters the folksy former Alaska governor affectionately coined “mamma grizzlies.” Palin opted out of the 2012 race and so far isn’t pushing her followers in any direction.

Bachmann seldom underscored gender early in her campaign. She would sprinkle in mentions of motherhood and even shared an emotional story about how a miscarriage fortified her anti-abortion views. But she was mostly content letting voters notice the obvious difference on their own as she stood on debate stages surrounded by a bunch of men.

But as Bachmann darted around Iowa in the hectic days before Tuesday’s caucuses, she hit the woman theme hard.

“I’m an Iowa girl. And one thing I remember about Iowa is we are a state of strong women,” Bachmann told the lunch crowd at a 50s-themed burger joint in Mount Ayr. “We need a strong woman to turn this country around, right?”

Longtime residents Margaret Bickers and Mary Davenport, sitting in a booth near Bachmann, nodded in agreement.

“Women are just more passionate than the men,” Bickers told a reporter. “We need a woman who is not afraid to vocalize that passion and effect change.”

“It takes a woman to get things done,” Davenport chimed in. Both said they were inclined to caucus for Bachmann.

Bachmann dispenses warm hugs as readily as simple handshakes. She’ll sometimes run her hand along another woman’s back during conversations, extended contact her male challengers tend to avoid.

When a 90-year-old woman shared that she was a mother of 12, Bachmann crouched by her side to hear more. “What a blessing,” the candidate said.

It gave Bachmann an opening to share a favorite biographical detail, that she’s a mother of five and foster parent to 23 more. While conveying her philosophy of government cost-cutting, she often tries to connect with fellow women by describing herself as the family coupon clipper who frequents consignment shops for clothes.

Tamara Scott, who runs the Iowa chapter of Concerned Women for America, tagged along on Bachmann’s recent 99-county tour and served as the warm-up act during several stops. Scott highlighted Bachmann’s role as a mother to many as evidence of compassion but also stressed the congresswoman’s give-no-ground debate performances as proof of her toughness.

“Gutsy has never been so gorgeous,” Scott told one audience.

Still, Union County GOP chairwoman Yvonne Kinkade suspects Bachmann could have trouble breaking through in farm country because she’s a woman.

“I’ve noticed that when her name is mentioned sometimes that there’s a lot of men that wouldn’t vote for a woman,” said Kinkade, who counted herself among the undecided after visits by a few candidates this past week. “A lot of them are the head of the households in these farming communities.”

Bachmann advisers say her recent reliance on the Thatcher comparison is meant in part to remind voters of a prominent woman on the world stage, particularly a staunch ally of Ronald Reagan. Plus, Bachmann just finished reading a Thatcher biography.

Bachmann’s approach to the gender issue stands in contrast to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton four years ago. Clinton largely played it down, favoring pantsuits over skirts and stressing instead her experience and resolve.

“I’m not running as a woman. I’m running because I think I’m the best qualified and experienced person for president,” she often told campaign audiences.

When Clinton dropped out of the 2008 race, only then did she acknowledge the historic nature of her candidacy.

“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it has about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before,” she said in her concession speech, referring to the 18 million votes she received during the primaries.

Bachmann looked primed to shatter Iowa’s glass ceiling in August when she won the Iowa GOP’s straw poll. But her standing tumbled soon after and she has struggled to recover that summer magic.

On CNN Sunday night, she was asked if Iowans had a problem voting for a woman.

“There’s only been one statewide race in this presidential election so far, and it’s the Iowa straw poll,” Bachmann replied. “And I’m the candidate that won the Iowa straw poll. So, clearly, they were willing to get behind a woman, and I think they will again.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (28)
  1. The Crux of the Buscuit says:

    Bachmann is an idiot.

  2. angus says:

    The National Organization for Women must be frustrated. We have women running for national office and they are Bachmann and Palin? We can’t do better than this?

    Notice she talks of her 23 forster children? Took alot ofgovernment moneyfor their care but wants to cut government spending. Obviously cut the spending for anhone else, no her. Notice also she didn’t adopt any because then she has to pay for their care.

    1. digger says:

      how many do YOU have Angus. The money she got did / does not cover all of the expenses. That’s like saying that a social work only is only after the big money they make. Idiot

  3. What? says:

    TROUBLE….with a capital T that rhymes with B that stands for……. Bumble headed beeeeooooottttcccchhhh. I say thats trouble.

  4. Terrace says:

    Wow, could she be more desperate?

  5. Jessica says:

    She continues to set back the female gender each and every day with her perverse beliefs and statements.
    Thankfully SHE will soon be over but sadly her legacy will be of the carnage done to the validity of a woman in the WH that will haunt us for 20 years after.
    Please please please Michele __ go away from the cameras !

    1. fred says:

      dont worry, clinton already did that.

      1. Frankie says:

        shame on bill. shoulda kept her home barefoot and pregnant.

  6. Julio says:

    Michelle, please have the grace and wisdom to bow out of this race before you waste anymore of your contributers money.

    1. Murph says:

      Minnesota taxpayers will have to pay for her thug bodyguards you know?.Who knows what else?

    2. frankie says:

      People are allowed to spend money how they choose to. If they want to give their money to a political candidate that is their choice

      1. A Fool and His Money...... says:

        Not quite ready to give up on her yet, frankie? Thanks, it’s your money that helps keep us entertained.

  7. Murph says:

    Can’t help but how desperate and loonie tunes they are all being lately! Bachmann was probably born that way.The rest of them? Bomb Iran? What the heck for Rick Santorum? When all their oil producing neighbors are Sunni Arabs who would do it in milisecond if asked to! Newt with his faux tears.Romney who has too much to lose by winning.The Texas firebug? Ron Paul who has finally unleashed all the goofiness he had kept in check for a while? Don’t wait up for these fishing fools,the only big catch they will get is a nationwide cold shoulder! The GOP has done themselves in with their fascist rhetoric and predatory actions!

  8. America's Iron Lady? says:

    How about “America’s Crazy Lady”?

  9. Ruth M says:

    Dear Michelle, it has nothing to do with gender. It has to do with stupid.

  10. Little Tin God says:

    Bachmann may be the only woman (and I use the term “woman” loosely), but she sure isn’t the only ditz. She has lots of company.

  11. Tom says:

    Thank goodness she clarified that she is woman or else us common sense people would never have figured that out.

    And she trying to get voters to embrace a strong woman in the White House. She is neither strong or smart. Just because Social Conservatives buy into her non-sense doesn’t mean the rest of us common sense people do.

  12. Swamp Rat says:

    To Ms Bachmann:
    Remember your campaign motto; “Stupid is as Stupid does!” Congratulations for living up to that motto. You made the “Not a Snowball’s Chance in the Political Hades Award” for the 2012 Presidential GOP campaigns thus far. Now you are using, I should be saying, playing the ersatz gender card for whatever idiotic reason to save a doomed campaign.

    You had your 15 minutes in the political limelight. You should be withdrawing to avoid further embarrassing your self and your die-hard supporters. Now if you ever run on the “Stupid is as Stupid does” ticket for dog-catcher in your Stillwater neck-of-the-woods I consider voting for you if you are the ‘only’ candidate who wants the job. Happy New Year!

  13. Murph says:

    The IRON Lady? Is she talking about her thick numb skull or the only job she might succeed at…ironing?

  14. Representative, you're no Margaret Thatcher! says:

    As a matter of fact, you’re not much of a Representative either!

  15. Really says:

    Why are the liberal Bachmann haters so filled with hatred and bile?

    1. huh? says:

      Ya don’t have to be a deadbeat lib to taste the bile of Bachmann

      1. digger says:

        by the words you use YOU are a left leaning commie pinko

        1. huh? says:

          Nah, you should have noticed I’M a RON PAUL leaning libertarian. Isn’t the writing on the wall? But from your comment, I see you’re not such a profound head beatin’ psyciatrist of the politco. digger? Do you dig for a living. Suits you.

  16. keel says:

    I’d like to take her ice fishing with a bottle of peppermint schnapps and a quart of Jack Daniels.

  17. No more Bachmann BS up North says:

    And a piece of paper and a crayon so you can draw her a picture.

  18. Kirk Allen Larson says:

    “A lot of men that wouldn’t vote for a woman?” Men would vote for a woman if she was the best candidate. There is a reason why Bachmann is ranking near the bottom. She’s horrible.

  19. but surprise says:

    “There are only two men running in this race, that’s Newt Romney, and me.” on Meet The Press.

    Now that we have that cleared up, what about the gender of your husband. The jury is still out on that one, though, some of us already know.

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