The U.S. House of Representatives is a notoriously poor launching pad for presidential ambitions, but Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who formally kicked off her campaign Monday in the town where she was born, enters the contest for the 2012 Republican nomination with several strengths.
They include deep family roots here in the first state to vote next winter, a strong conservative record that appeals to tea party activists hungry for a champion against both major parties in Washington, and a commanding speaking style that rallies the faithful and helps her stand out in the pack.
"In a field of candidates with a whole bunch of beige," said veteran Iowa political analyst Dennis Goldford, "she's neon orange."
Those strengths already have helped her, first in a June 13 New Hampshire debate where she won favorable reviews, and in a new Iowa poll Sunday showing her neck and neck in the state with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Bachmann, 55, formally launched her campaign Monday with a salute to small-town values and a vow to vanquish President Barack Obama.