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WASHINGTON - Fresh off winning reelection and proving she can raise massive amounts of campaign cash, Rep. Michele Bachmann is beginning to consider a presidential run, according to close congressional aides.
As part of that effort, the Minnesota Republican will travel to the early caucus state of Iowa on Jan. 21 to confer with state GOP leaders and address a group of conservative tax activists.
That puts Bachmann in Iowa more than a week before former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who will appear there later this month as part of a book tour that starts in New York on Tuesday. Pawlenty has spent nearly two years laying the groundwork and building credentials for a possible presidential campaign. A Bachmann presidential run could complicate that.
Bachmann has made no firm decision about a White House bid in 2012, but "nothing is off the table," press aide Sergio Gor told the Star Tribune Wednesday, confirming an earlier ABC News report that quoted Bachmann chief of staff Andy Parrish.
Asked about presidential aspirations shortly after she was sworn in for a third term on Wednesday, Bachmann answered indirectly. "I'm continuing speaking out on the issues just as I have for the last few years," she told the Star Tribune. "Part of that will include going to Iowa and some of the caucus states. My commitment level remains the same, and that's to making sure that President Obama doesn't have a second term."
'A bigger picture'
Two sources familiar with Bachmann's plans but who requested anonymity were more direct, saying she is looking seriously at a presidential run.
Born in Waterloo, Iowa, Bachmann has deep roots in her native state and is a close ally of Rep. Steve King, a popular conservative in northern Iowa.
Bachmann is scheduled to be the headliner at a Des Moines fundraiser for Iowans for Tax Relief, an influential group of GOP fiscal activists. She contributed more than $30,000 to Iowa Republicans last year through her political action committee, MichelePAC, including $10,000 to Iowans for Tax Relief.
Whether or not Bachmann ultimately decides to run for the GOP nomination -- something political analysts rate as a long shot -- her aides say she intends to play a leading role in the effort to oust Obama.
"The Iowa trip is part of a bigger picture; there's a national story line here," said Bachmann communications director Doug Sachtleben, who worked on Republican Christine O'Donnell's high-profile but fruitless U.S. Senate bid in Delaware. Bachmann, he said, "really wants to take these opportunities to speak against President Obama and his policies. There have been a lot of grassroots efforts to encourage her to be a leader in that, and Iowa is part of that."
Obama, Sachtleben said, "is going to need to be replaced by a conservative, constitutionally based candidate for president. That's what she's speaking to."
Last week Bachmann traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to campaign for state party chairman Bobby Schostak.
"She knows how important the 2012 presidential election is and what a vital role Michigan will play in it," Parrish said in an e-mail last week.
Talk of Bachmann's interest in the White House elicited mild surprise among political analysts, who thought her a more likely challenger to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a DFLer who faces reelection in 2012.
"It seems to me she's been floated for every possible office except Queen of England," said Washington political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
Klobuchar, who could face a costly reelection campaign against Bachmann, declined to comment on Bachmann's presidential prospects.
U.S. Rep. John Kline, the dean of the Minnesota GOP delegation to Congress, said "anybody who's interested is welcome to explore it and see what support they can gather." But, he added, "I'm supporting Pawlenty."
A Pawlenty spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Whatever Bachmann's current intentions, analysts see little downside in her decision to float a presidential bid. "It will get a lot of attention, because she is a national figure, and she likes it when a camera goes on," Rothenberg said.
Her possible interest in higher office comes shortly after she was spurned by House GOP leaders in her effort to chair the House GOP conference and win a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
'Message really resonates'
Bachmann's record of prodigious fundraising, inflammatory pronouncements on cable TV talk shows, and her founding of the House Tea Party Caucus have cemented the affection of conservative activists nationwide and sparked at least one website encouraging her to run for president.
Michael Snyder, of Carnation, Wash., created the blog "Michele Bachmann for President in 2012" more than a year ago.
"Her message really resonates with the Tea Party movement," said Snyder, adding that Bachmann was a stronger candidate than another female conservative who has received lots of attention over a potential 2012 run, former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Snyder, who has never met Bachmann, said she "seems to outshine Sarah Palin in a lot of ways" and "seems to hold up better in public debate."
Bachmann raised $13.2 million in her 2010 reelection bid, shattering House records and out-fundraising most U.S. Senate candidates. She still has nearly $2 million cash on hand, all of which would be transferable to a presidential campaign.
Pawlenty has raised $3.3 million through his Freedom First political action committee. That money cannot be transferred to a presidential race.
Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota political scientist, said Bachmann weighing a presidential bid serves as a reminder to national Republicans who rejected her earlier bid for House leadership that she remains a national figure.
This doesn't mean she's a serious contender," said Pearson. "But it does serve as a reminder that she has a strong national profile among conservative Republicans and among particularly Republicans that identify with the Tea Party."