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Are Michele Bachmann's Best Days On Campaign Trail Nearly Past?

Rep. Michele Bachmann greets a voter in Pella, Iowa.
Rep. Michele Bachmann greets a voter in Pella, Iowa.

DES MOINES — These sunny August days in Iowa may prove to be Michele Bachmann's best as a GOP presidential candidate.

On the eve of the state's Republican straw poll in Ames, where she is expected to either win or place, the Minnesota congresswoman hop-scotched central Iowa.

She charmed about 100 supporters and the curious in the tidy, Dutch-and-proud town of Pella, and drew easily the largest crowd of any GOP candidates speaking at the Iowa State Fair.

Bachmann, however, ended up giving the expectant fair-goers gathered in the hot, late afternoon sun the short shrift, talking for fewer than three minutes before hurrying off to another event.

She may come to wish that she had stayed longer to savor Friday's attention.

Bachmann is expected to win or show in Saturday's much-anticipated state GOP straw poll. But front-runner Mitt Romney isn't participating. And the political spotlight has already shifted dramatically this weekend to Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who will announce his presidential run in South Carolina, and then travel for an appearance in Iowa Sunday.

Though largely unknown outside of Texas and hard-core political circles, Perry's entry in the race threatens Bachmann's Tea Party and evangelical base more than any GOP presidential hopeful.

But a cadre of Republican voters, in central Iowa on a mid-August Friday, said that Perry is still a mystery, and Bachmann is not.

"I feel she speaks with truth and authority," said Kathy Heyveld of Pella, among those who gathered near the Tulip Festival monument to hear Bachmann tout her conservative bona fides.

(She opened her comments lauding the hot-off-the-presses ruling by a federal appellate court that struck down the individual insurance requirement of health care reform.)

"I was looking for her faith, I saw that," said Heyveld, wearing a Bachmann t-shirt. "I really feel she'll walk her talk."

Elizabeth Edwards, also of Pella, said that Perry "scares me a little," and questioned the balance he would strike between religion and governing.

Elizabeth Edwards of Pella, Iowa.
Liz Halloran / NPR
Elizabeth Edwards of Pella, Iowa.

"Don't get me wrong, religion needs to be a part of it, but there needs to be a balance," she said.

Edwards watched the Thursday night GOP presidential debate, and said she believed Bachmann's Minnesota rival, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty "did himself no favors" in strongly questioning the congresswoman's legislative record.

Bachmann's appearance in Pella was professional and practiced: a good sound system, banners, flags, and a candidate who, along among the GOP field, already has a trademark line that crowds say aloud along with her.

My goal, she said, is for Obama to be... cue crowd: "A one-term president."

World War II veteran Jose Vega of Oskaloosa, at the event with his wife, Evelyn, was impressed by Bachmann's vigor.

Jose and Evelyn Vega in Pella, Iowa.
Liz Halloran / NPR
Jose and Evelyn Vega in Pella, Iowa.

"Her voice – the projection was fantastic," he said.

The Vegas, though, say they are not close to making up their minds.

Evelyn said it's too early, and there are too many candidates still jockeying for position for her to make up her mind yet.

Says Jose: "I would like to listen to some others, also."

It's not good news for Bachmann that those others will, soon, include Perry.

And, maybe even Sarah Palin, who has perfected the publicity swoop in. She was in New Hampshire the day Romney announced, and popped up Friday at the Iowa State Fair, remaining coy about her White House intentions.

"I hope you can make it to Ames tomorrow," Bachmann repeated to every person whose hand she shook or placard she signed. "If you can make it to Ames..."

Ames, after all, may prove to be the best day Bachmann the presidential candidate will have.

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