On the Trail with Michele Bachmann

In the span of a few weeks, Michele Bachmann has gone from fringe candidate to serious contender in the 2012 race. While her frontrunner status is hardly a surprise to loyal Tea Party followers, the emergence of Bachmann as a player on the national scene has caught the attention of many early state voters and (for better or worse) those in the national press corps.

Bachmann's road to the White House started on Monday in Iowa, where she officially announced her candidacy before embarking on campaign stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Covering over 2,600 miles within a 72-hour period, the congresswoman laid out her platform before voters in key early states and aggressively attacked President Barack Obama for his failed economic policies.

"We can't afford four more years of Barack Obama," Bachmann exclaimed in her announcement speech in her native Waterloo, Iowa, on Monday. "This election is about big issues, not petty ones. When all is said and done, we cannot be about big government as usual."

Her message is one that many conservatives have been hungry for in a current field of candidates being described as “unimpressive.”

“She’s one of us. She’s lived the same lives many of us have lived,” said David Alderman of Waterloo. “I think she has that ‘it’ factor. I like what she stands for and I think I can easily get behind her.”

Bachmann’s “it factor” and her ability to connect with her audience and speak to salient issues -- whether it be her roots in Iowa, the economy in New Hampshire, or family values in South Carolina -- make her a formidable opponent. While she is able to portray what she calls a “compassionate” side with tales of motherhood and her love for her husband Marcus, to whom she has been married for 33 years, Bachmann is no shrinking violet when it comes to attacking her foes. She scolded the media at a stop in Charleston for wanting to see a “mud wrestling fight” between her and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and she never missed an opportunity to get her jabs in at President Obama (at all of her stops, she joked of retiring the teleprompter upon her arrival to the White House).

For many voters, this was the first time they got to see the Minnesota congresswoman in person -- meaning this was also the first time they got to see her without the caricatures and extremist portrayals put forward by the national, partisan press. Many in her audiences seemed to be pleasantly surprised by Bachmann’s performance. The lawmaker’s common sense message of limited government and a return to constitutional principles was well received at every stop.

Paula Tarta of Rye, New Hampshire, was one of those in the crowd who walked away with a favorable impression of the congresswoman. "I thought she was super energized. I do think she has the titanium backbone that it's going to take to go up against this ol’ boy network. I'm excited for her and excited to be supporting her."

In one of the more genuine moments of her tour, Bachmann confided to voters at a town hall gathering in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on Wednesday night that she had suffered a miscarriage after the birth of her second child. It was a poignant answer in describing her pro-life roots and inspiration to become a foster parent -- one that most of her campaign staff were completely unaware of.

As Bachmann rolled into her stops along the tour, she was greeted by enthusiastic crowds whose size exceeded the expectations of her staff. They had anticipated about 50 to 100 people at each stop; instead they got crowds ranging from 300 to more than a thousand.

The crowds comprised Tea Party faithful and those that were curious to get a glimpse of the GOP’s latest addition to the field. The congresswoman showed she had the star power to pull in big numbers. In South Carolina, many onlookers had waited over two hours in blistering heat just to see her speak. At a town hall forum at Winthrop University, there were more than 500 people packed in an overflow area who could not get a seat inside the auditorium.