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Michele Bachmann presses Iowa's buttons

27 June 11 18:13
Michele Bachmann
By Mark Mardell
North America editor

Michele Bachmann has formally launched her presidential run in her home state of Iowa but is there substance beneath the style?

Elvis Presley's Promised Land belted out as Michele Bachman made her way to the podium in the little town of Waterloo in Iowa.

Appropriate, for her declaration was a vision of the lost country of a special people, that could be regained through faith and hard work. Inappropriate too, though. There were no hard promises to indicate how she'd get the milk and honey flowing again.

It is inevitable, if not really fair to either of them, that there will be comparisons to Sarah Palin. Like Palin, a strong woman, a darling of the Tea Party, who talks proudly of her marriage and motherhood, who portrays herself as an outsider who speaks truth to Washington. But unlike Palin, she hasn't given up elective office to become a TV star. Unlike Palin, before she went into politics, she was a tax lawyer and businesswoman. Unlike Palin, she shows the occasional tendency to button her lip and calm down the rhetoric. Most importantly, unlike Palin, she is now a declared candidate.

At the moment the Republicans feel they can win. But many don't think they have the right candidate to do so. So anyone who glitters will attract their attention, and ours in the media.

But there are hurdles to overcome. "Are you flaky?" asked the TV interviewer. And this was on Fox, not the "lamestream" media so loathed by the American right. Michele Bachmann's frosty answer was: "I think that would be insulting to say something like that, because I'm a serious person."

But from getting her American history wrong to calling President Obama "un-American" she has made a string of statements that have needed a little finessing.

In her Iowa declaration, she pressed all the right buttons for this very conservative state. She said that the country was in peril and that growing up in Iowa told her that God, family and neighbours were the solution, not the government. She didn't explain how the Almighty or relatives would solve America's economic problems. Or indeed why she was seeking high office if government could do nothing worthwhile.

But it may well work in Iowa. Her declaration that she believes in the three legged stool of American conservatism was central. The three legs? Peace through strength (she said the USA was "the indispensable country" twice), economic conservatism, social conservatism.

The bigger question is whether what works in Iowa works elsewhere. The primary season creates a familiar problem for the Republicans, exacerbated by the dominance of the grassroots conservative Tea Party movement. The person who throws the most conservative red meat at the right-wingers may well win Iowa and other primaries. But they may be the worst candidate to beat Obama in the presidential election, especially among independents and those tempted to switch their votes.

This is a big argument within the Tea Party itself. The leadership, if there is such a thing, insists that an armchair of fiscal conservatism is better than a wobbly stool. Others think social issues and faith are equally important.

Michele Bachmann walked around after her speech hugging the crowd to the tune of "Walking on sunshine". It must be a nice feeling, if you can pull it off, but some worry it is not a substantial platform.

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