For GOP, a Bachmann White House run could be a boon and bust

Michele Bachmann
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks at TurboCam, a machine manufacturing company, March 12, 2011 in Barrington, New Hampshire. Bachmann, popular with conservatives and Tea Party activists, was in New Hampshireon a multi-stop trip attending fundraisers and meeting with members of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Rep. Michele Bachmann is getting two starkly different messages these days as she dabbles in presidential politics.

She encounters cheering crowds of supporters around the country who hope she'll run for president. But Bachmann's Chief of Staff Andy Parrish said there are establishment Republican leaders who have made it clear that Bachmann should cease and desist when it comes to presidential politicking.

"Those conversations — and I won't get into them — those conversations have happened," Parrish said, declining to identify Bachmann's GOP detractors. "It's the behind the scenes people. Some higher level behind the scenes people who do consulting."

"A VERY SERIOUS PLAYER"

Former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, one of Washington's top lobbyists and Republican strategists, said he has not heard about pressure being put on Bachmann to step aside. Weber, who's one of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's top presidential exploration advisers, does say Bachmann is being taken more seriously than ever by the old guard in Washington.

"I think people in the Republican establishment are realizing that Michele [Bachmann] is not just an irritant but a very serious player in the Republican Party," Weber said. "She challenges the establishment, and what is dawning on people is that she's got a substantial grass roots following in the Republican Party, and it's growing."

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Weber said Bachmann has proved more effective than anyone else in the Republican Party at appealing to the grassroots base. As Bachmann's political ambitions expand, Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said some Republicans are likely concerned that her association with their party could hurt them.

"There's a real danger for the GOP in her becoming a national spokesperson because she is inflammatory and controversial, and has, at times, made factual misstatements," Schier said. "To the extent those traits become associated with Republican leadership, the party has a problem."

PAWLENTY AND BACHMANN

That's a problem for Republicans because, to win the White House, they have to appeal not only to their base but to independent voters, whom Bachmann could alienate with her uncompromising partisan rhetoric.

Schier said Bachmann's campaigning is certainly hurting Pawlenty's presidential efforts.

"There can't be a person who is less pleased with a potential Bachmann candidacy than Tim Pawlenty because she steals a lot of regional attention and support that Pawlenty might count on. Her flamboyant-style threatens to eclipse other more buttoned-down candidates like Pawlenty."

But Pawlenty-backer Vin Weber said Bachmann's impact goes beyond her fellow Minnesotan.

"I do not buy the notion that there are overlapping Minnesota constituencies that she's competing for," Weber said. "The issue is, can anybody compete with Michele [Bachmann] for energizing that grassroots electorate?"

And Bachmann isn't just energizing Republicans, she's also tapping them for campaign money. She said she'll decide on a presidential campaign sometime this summer.

Pawlenty already has an exploratory committee registered with the Federal Election Commission that he can use to raise money for a presidential campaign. Bachmann doesn't need to do that anytime soon. Campaign laws would permit her to transfer most of her congressional campaign committee money to a presidential campaign down the road.