The 2010 Great American Conservative Women calendar, featuring U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in November, is creating a flurry of commentary. But there is a back story here that shouldn't be ignored.

Because no matter our political leanings and loathings, there's more going on here than the stale debate over whether women can be powerful and pretty. For a clue, go to www.cblpi.org/calendar, and watch the slickly produced behind-the-scenes video of the calendar photo shoot. It's hip, sexy and clearly directed at its target market.

Conservative middle-aged men? Nope.

Nearly 15,000 of the 25,000 calendars in print will hang on the walls of college-age conservative women, many of whom are tired of feeling marginalized.

"Conservative college students have a really difficult time on campus," said Alyssa Cordova, the video's 23-year-old producer and lecture director for the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute, a Virginia-based think tank geared toward female conservatives. "They are intimidated and bullied by professors and made to believe they're on their own."

The institute's calendar has become "one of the primary ways to reach and promote the goals of conservative women on campus," Cordova said. "A lot of our students [nationwide] look forward to it." The calendar, in its fifth year, is free to college students. It's $25 for everybody else.

Juliana Feldhacker, 21, is chairwoman of College Republicans at the University of Minnesota, majoring in political science and aerospace engineering. She hadn't heard about the calendar until Wednesday, but would like to have one.

"It's a reminder that there are people of like minds out there, who have stood up for what they believe, and you can do that, too," Feldhacker said.

Not everyone who wants one is a student. Republican Carinda Horton, 40, of Duluth, is running for the Legislature in 2010. She plans to buy a calendar for her two daughters, ages 11 and 15, "as more of an educational tool, so they see that a woman can take on a role in leadership. Beauty shines when a person is truthful with themselves and honest with their views."

Not everyone who wants a calendar is female, either.

Quinn O'Reilly, 20, is president of the U's Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, majoring in economics and history. "In class, as soon as you tell someone you're a Republican, they stop listening to what you're saying," O'Reilly said.

"It's great to feature a bunch of high-profile conservative women, and they look great doing a calendar -- unlike Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh," he added.

I think we might all agree on that last point.

The calendar features 11 conservative women, including former Miss California Carrie Prejean, who made national headlines when she did not support gay marriage during the Miss USA pageant. Bachmann is the only member of Congress featured. Other women are Bay Buchanan, S.E. Cupp, Star Parker, Phyllis Schlafly, Kellyanne Conway, Ann Coulter, Kate Obenshain, Michelle Malkin and Marji Ross.

Unlike last year's over-the-top mink theme, this year's attire is simple crisp white shirts and blue jeans, "organic, vintage American patriotism," Cordova said. Still, a few of the women's come-get-it poses (rest assured that Schlafly's is not among them) will get some male hearts racing.

This is Bachmann's first appearance, and it's largely due to Cordova, who lobbied for her participation.

"Michele Bachmann is one of my favorite women," said Cordova, who grew up in northern California and became politically active at George Mason University outside Washington, D.C.

"She is absolutely representative of a true conservative woman," Cordova said. "She stands up for her beliefs. It's not about power or title. People call her crazy for speaking up, but younger conservative women really look up to her and we're excited to have her in the calendar."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 • gail.rosenblum@startribune.com