Initial reactions to last Monday’s Tea Party Express debate in Florida were quick to point out a noticeably more assertive Michele Bachmann — some even named her the winner of the Perry bash-a-thon — who aggressively landed several punches against her conservative rival from Texas. Her comments linking a former Perry chief of staff, who was a lobbyist for drug-maker Merck, which donated several thousand dollars to Perry’s campaign coffers, and the governor’s controversial (and failed) mandate that all preteen girls in the state get the (Merck-manufactured) HPV vaccine Gardasil, may ultimately prove damaging to the current front-runner. Perry, for one, flubbed his retort and has yet to find a winning defense of his Perrycare problem. So the question running through every political junkie’s mind last Monday, at least while CNN’s Wold Blitzer droned on: Are we witnessing a Bachmann comeback in the making?
Well, if we were, it lasted mere minutes. In a Fox post-debate broadcast, Bachmann felt the need to make a few more HPV-vaccine-related comments, including relaying what one mother had told her in Tampa just moments after the candidates left the stage: “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.” Despite Bachmann’s ensuing clarification that she is not a doctor or scientist — or particularly versed in the concept of causality — the backlash from the medical and political communities was swift and severe, with one former RNC communications director calling it “the nail in the coffin in her campaign.”
The Bachmann campaign, however, is determined to keep trying for that elusive day in the sun their candidate enjoyed before Perry so quickly clouded it over. Their new strategy, perhaps: While the rest of the candidates compete for airwaves and diner space in the early states, and with Iowa arguably still in the bag thanks to Bachmann’s victorious showing in the Ames Straw Poll, get her on the road running a truly national campaign.
Kicking off her comeback-from-the-failed-comeback tour, Bachmann spoke to a GOP gathering in California yesterday where she trumpeted her private sector philosophy, barely mentioned her Republican rivals, and lambasted Obama’s health-care and foreign policies, even dusting off her “one term president” catchphrase. (What is it about ignoring your fellow candidates that makes you seem more in charge?) And while her reception in Los Angeles was energetic enough, if Bachmann really hopes to drown out this latest Gardasil gaffe and elbow her way back into the top tier, she’ll need to really keep the press attention up by bouncing around to corners of the nation heretofore untouched by any other GOP hopeful. Where to next? Maybe Texas, where a recent poll had Perry losing to Obama in the state. Or perhaps the Ohio battleground where President Obama and Speaker Boehner’s jobs plans are duking it out?