Can Michele Bachmann Get Her Groove Back?

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The presidential campaign has been a roller coaster for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

From a back-of-the-pack start, the Tea Party favorite won an upset victory in the Iowa straw poll. Then, Texas Gov. Rick Perry got in the race and eclipsed her as a media headliner, and Bachmann's star fell. After a feisty debate appearance last week that put her back on an upswing, Bachmann headed to southern California to try and get her groove back.

On Friday night, Bachmann took the stage of The Tonight Show, a place that politicians, movie stars and other celebrities often go when they want to give their image a boost. Host Jay Leno asked Bachmann about her criticism last week of front-runner Perry for using an executive order to require Texas girls to get a vaccine that protects against cervical cancer.

"It's HPV, and the concern is that there's potentially side effects that can come with something like that," Bachmann said.

Bachmann had scored points when she tore into Perry at the CNN debate on Monday. But the next morning, she managed to turn that win into a controversy when she told the Today Show of her encounter with a tearful woman who said her daughter had taken the vaccine and "she suffered from mental retardation thereafter."

The medical community went wild because there is no evidence supporting such a disastrous side effect. Bachmann has spent days trying to explain her comment, but misstatements of fact have almost become a Bachmann trademark. The nonpartisan organization PolitiFact has rated a higher percentage of her statements false than those of any major presidential contender.

California Dreamin'

At the California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles this weekend, Bachmann made what is arguably another questionable statement when she predicted that the solidly blue state won't stay that way in the next election.

"I believe that 2012 will be a wave election that goes all across the United States, it will even take in the Golden State. I am so excited about what's to come," she told the crowd.

And on that glorious day, Bachmann wants to be the one to chase President Obama from the White house. During her 40-minute speech, she slammed Obama's health care overhaul, his tax proposals and even the ending of NASA's space shuttle program. She also knocked the president's foreign policy, saying he was sending dangerous signals to the rest of the world, especially in the Middle East.

"You wonder why we have had the hostilities of this Arab Spring. And we saw President [Hosni] Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands during that falling," she said.

Bachmann left the stage to a standing ovation.

"I loved everything she said, completely 110 percent. We all thought that," said Julie Gilbart, who attended the rally with her friends.

Gilbart and her friends also agreed that 2012 is a "do-or-die" election, but that Bachmann has one obvious drawback as a potential nominee — she's a woman.

"We have no problem with electing a woman, but the population at large ... how many women presidents have we had? Zero," Gilbart said. "Is this the year we want to take a risk that we'll run our first woman candidate? I'm not so sure that that's a good idea at this time."

As far as the issues are concerned, rally attendee Robert Mitchell says, conservatives know they don't really lose anything by backing a candidate other than Bachmann.

"Because almost all of her issues that are Tea Party issues are also issues that the other candidates can carry [as well]," Mitchell said.

Bachmann's campaign is now focused largely on the Iowa caucuses, where she hopes that Tea Party and evangelical support will put her back over the top.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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