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More eyes on Bachmann's next visit to Iowa

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Rep. Michele Bachmann
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks to several thousand people at a rally at the Minneapolis Convention Center Wednesday, April 7, 2010.
MPR News Photo/Mark Zdechlik

When U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks Friday, Jan. 21 at an Iowans for Tax Relief fundraiser in Des Moines, her appearance will garner even more attention than usual.

Bachmann regularly travels the nation appearing at conservative gatherings. But this week's trip to Iowa is being watched closely because the Minnesota Congresswoman has not ruled out a run for president next year.

No stranger to the national political spotlight, Bachmann is a sought-after speaker and a tea party favorite who can easily fire up crowds and raise millions with her message of limited government and lower taxes.

Now that Bachmann's name is on the list of potential 2012 presidential candidates, her trip to Iowa attracted even more attention because the Iowa caucuses represent the nation's first political contest.

"People are taking Congresswoman Bachmann's trip to Iowa seriously because she's taking it seriously," University of Minnesota Political Scientist Kathryn Pearson said.

Pearson said Bachmann could be testing the presidential waters for lots of reasons, including a desire to become even more well-known.

"She has not done anything to quell speculation that she's considering a bid for the presidency," Pearson said. "In fact, she's hinted that this Iowa trip is an initial foray. Whether or not that means she'll run, who knows?"

Pearson also said if Bachmann is serious about running nationally, she will have to move beyond her niche base.

"People are taking Congresswoman Bachmann's trip to Iowa seriously because she's taking it seriously."

"She managed to raise millions of dollars for her re-election bid from donors across the country, but that doesn't necessarily translate into the whole of the Republican primary electorate and so becoming a national figure, a national spokeswoman for the tea party movement and for conservative Republicans is different than running for president so she really will have to appeal to a wider swath of Republicans in order to do that," Pearson said.

Bachmann was not granting interviews this week, citing the shootings of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona, her office said.

Ed Failor Jr., president of Iowans for Tax Relief, said he invited Bachmann because his group agrees with her outspoken opposition to the cost and growth of government, and because she can draw a crowd.

"Absolutely," Failor said. "That's why we do it."

The group recently had an event featuring another prominent Republican, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

According to Bachmann's office, she will also hold private meetings in Iowa, but did not provide any specifics. 

Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the conservative Iowa policy group the Family Leader, declined to say whether he would meet with Bachmann. Vander Plaats, considered one most influential Iowans in the religious right movement, is credited with leading an successful effort to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. 

But Vander Plaats said he thinks having Bachmann in the debate would be good as Republicans choose a candidate to take on President Barack Obama. 

"I know the people in Iowa are intrigued by a lot of potential candidates," Vander Plaats said. "But when they heard Congresswoman Bachmann at least throw out the consideration that she may want look at it, I think that definitely was a lot of interest to people in Iowa."

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., gestures to a crowd gathered on the lawn of the State Capitol on Saturday, March 13, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nathaniel Minor

Last spring, Iowans for Tax Relief hosted then Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has said he will soon decide whether he will run for president. 

A poll of Iowa Republicans released last week showed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading the pack of potential 2012 GOP candidates. Pawlenty and Bachmann registered only in the single digits.

Still, from an organizational standpoint, Romney and Pawlenty are far ahead of all the others in Iowa, said former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Steve Grubbs, CEO of the political and corporate consulting firm Victory Enterprises.

If Bachmann gets into the mix, it could take focus away from Pawlenty, Grubbs said.

"I don't think it's helpful to have two Minnesotans," he said. "You know, from one perspective they appeal to different types of Republicans, but from another perspective I think that it probably divides that pie up just a little bit. But you know what? It'll be interesting to see if Congressman Bachmann actually pulls the trigger."

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen plans to be at the tax relief fundraiser. He said he didn't know if he would meet with Bachmann. 

Paulsen speaks highly of Pawlenty, who held a fundraiser for Paulsen last summer.

But Paulsen said he is not yet endorsing any potential candidate. He also said he's not concerned that all the buzz about Bachmann's potential candidacy will hurt Pawlenty.

"I think it's good for the country," Paulsen said. "A strong dynamic field is always good for the process." 

At the end of the month, Pawlenty will be in the same area of Iowa Bachmann is visiting later this week.