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Palin is a challenge to Bachmann’s candidacy

Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has been rocketing up polls in early primary and caucus states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Some grassroots activists, as the Iowa Independent reported, are convinced that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will jump into the race. How would that affect Bachmann’s shot at the nomination in these early-voting states?

On the surface, Palin and Bachmann have much in common, including their support of the tea party movement. But the entry of Palin into the race wouldn’t necessarily hurt Bachmann more than most other candidates, University of Iowa Political Science Professor Tim Hagle told the Minnesota Independent.

In a race where former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are all jockeying for the same tea party crowd, a new entry would likely pull from all those conservative candidates.

“That group of voters that all those candidates are competing for would be divided up and that would leave room for a slightly more moderate Republican to come in and perhaps to get a victory,” Hagle said.

Bachmann has risen into second place behind former Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s widely considered to be the moderate in the race, in early polling in Iowa and New Hampshire. But being in the lead without Palin to attract some of the early criticism could be dangerous for Bachmann.

“If it looks like she is — as people have been describing her — the alternative to Romney, then it means she’s probably going to come under more fire,” Hagle said.

Still, support in early polls for all Republican candidates is softer than in recent years, opening up the possibility that voters would more willingly switch their allegiances to a late entry like Palin.

“It gives that opportunity for someone who really has that star-power and pizzazz and charisma to scoop up a lot of these people,” Hagle said. “Bachmann seems to have a lot of star-power — but not as much as Palin.”

If conservatives don’t coalesce around one inspiring candidate, Palin could potentially wait as long as Thanksgiving to enter the race, Hagle said, because she is so well-known in conservative circles — although no candidate has previously had much success with such a late entry in the state.

One of Bachmann’s main strengths over Palin are her favorability numbers. In the most recent Iowa polls, she came in at the top with likely Republican primary voters, with only 12 percent viewing her unfavorably. Despite press coverage of some high-profile gaffes, Bachmann managed to carry a similar favorability rating into the poll release this week from New Hampshire.

Palin, because she is already well-known, will have trouble shifting the fairly high negative opinions people have already formed of her, said Hagle, whereas views of Bachmann have had less time to harden.

For both Bachmann and Palin, a repeat of the 2008 presidential campaign, where people construed some Democratic attacks on Palin to be sexist, could backfire for Democrats, Hagle said.

“It caught a lot of Republicans off balance, they didn’t expect that kind of attack on Palin,” Hagle said. “Even though Bachmann got a little of that already, I think there would be much more push-back this time.”

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