JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, 2012 presidential politics.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann formally kicked off her campaign today for the Republican nomination, giving the field a jolt of Tea Party energy.
To make her announcement, Bachmann chose the city where she was born, Waterloo, in the state with the nation's first presidential contest, Iowa.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn. presidential candidate: My name is Michele Bachmann. I stand here in the midst of many friends and many family members to announce formally my candidacy for president of the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: At 55, the third-term congresswoman from next-door Minnesota has made an outspoken name for herself. She's aggressively opposed President Obama over health care reform and economic policy, as she did again today.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: In February 2009, President Obama was very confident that his economic policies would turn the country around within a year. He said -- and I quote -- "A year from now, I think people are going to see that we're starting to make some progress. If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition."
Well, Mr. President, your policies haven't worked. Spending our way out of the recession hasn't worked. And, so, Mr. President, we take you at your word.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The mother of five lost her first try for public office, a school board race 12 years ago. But she won a state Senate seat and went on to the U.S. House, where she became a fiery voice for the burgeoning Tea Party movement.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: The liberals -- and, to be clear, I am not one of those...
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: ... want you to believe that the Tea Party movement is just the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party. But I am here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Bachmann's early appearances on the national stage included some misstatements, including this one in New Hampshire last March on the start of the American Revolution.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: You're the state where the shot was heard round the world at Lexington and Concord.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, it was Massachusetts. Bachmann later acknowledged her mistake.
But with her candidacy comes increased scrutiny. And she's already been parodied on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
ACTRESS: Believe it or not, my makeup was done by a child.
JUDY WOODRUFF: She also faced this question from host Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday" yesterday.
CHRIS WALLACE, "Fox News Sunday": Are you a flake?
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, I think that would be insulting, to say something like that, because I'm a serious person.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Wallace later issued an apology for asking the question, which Bachmann declined to accept.
In fact, Bachmann gained serious new attention this month when her performance at the first major GOP debate was praised as show-stealing.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: President Obama is a one-term president!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: And according to a new poll of Iowa Republicans published in The Des Moines Register, she enters the contest at the head of the GOP field, in a virtual tie with front-runner Mitt Romney.
Bachmann kicks off her campaign with visits this week to the key early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
For more on the launch of Bachmann's campaign, we're joined by Kathie Obradovich. She's the political columnist for The Des Moines Register.
Kathie, thank you very much for being with us.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH, The Des Moines Register: Thank you, Gwen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's actually Judy, but that's all right.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Oh, I'm sorry.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: I'm sorry, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That's all right. We all work together here.
Tell me first, why is Bachmann doing so well with Iowa voters? I noticed, not only did she tie for first among people who said, who is your first choice? If you count first and second choice, she came in way ahead of everybody else.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Yes. She is a really good fit for the conservative wing of the Iowa caucus-goers. She can tick off a lot of the boxes that they're looking for, Tea Party being done, social conservative, and not just a conservative, but a standard-bearer on social issues, constitutional conservative.
Those kinds of things are playing very well with the very right wing of the Iowa Republican caucus-going public. And those folks, I think, are also waiting to see if she can check off the last box, which is: can beat Barack Obama.
I think she has to show that she has really staying power to get beyond Iowa and the caucuses on to the national stage.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what are they seeing of her so far? Because, as we pointed out, she got off to a little bit of a rocky footing when she hit the national stage. She made a few misstatements.
I gather there were a few things she said today that were tagged by the media. But does it feel like she's getting her footing there in Iowa?
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Well, I think so.
I mean, she's really just getting started. And she has made some good inroads into key constituencies in Iowa. One of them being a group that really helped launch Mike Huckabee's candidacy four years ago, and that was the homeschooling network here. She homeschooled some of her kids. And they -- she really impressed them at one of their big conferences earlier in the year.
And I have to tell you that these folks that really like her, they're picking up a lot of impressions from her from the -- more of the conservative media. And they're not so much so worried about little slips of the tongue and gaffes that -- that mainstream media is going to pounce on from either Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin or some of their other favorites.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There's been some -- I guess, some note today that she may be moderating her rhetoric. She's backing away from statements she made earlier that President Obama didn't love America as much as she did, for example.
Is she moderating her positions as well?
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: You know, she made some overtures to Democrats while she was in Waterloo today. In fact, she -- last night, at a rally, she mentioned the fact that she and her family were all Democrats. She called themselves fair and reasonable people.
And so I think that they're -- especially in Waterloo, which is a very strong Democratic stronghold, you know, she was reaching out to the hometown crowd there, and also making the point that Tea Party -- she thinks that Tea Party people encompass far more than just Republicans. She's talking about disaffected Democrats, independents. So, she's trying to build a bigger coalition.
But, you know, Judy, I don't see really anyplace where she's taken -- rolled back on any of the positions that she's taken, from, you know, really slashing the budget to any of the social issues that she's championed. You know, I just don't really see that coming out in her positions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is that -- is there a sense that this is a strategy she's going to stick with to try to reach beyond the Tea Party base?
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Well, she's going to have to reach beyond the Tea Party base in order to really establish enough of a coalition to put together the nomination.
You know, even though here in Iowa, you have got about 60 percent of the people who say that they have at least some support for the Tea Party among Republican caucus-goers, only 17 percent said they were really strongly supportive of the Tea Party. So, the Tea Party only takes you so far. You really do have to reach out to a broader coalition.
And, eventually, if you want to go beyond the nomination even, you have to -- you have to be able to bring along a lot of independents.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the rest of the Republican field at this point, Kathie?
Let's take this moment to look at the poll that showed she was -- Michele Bachmann was right up there at the top with Mitt Romney, 23, 22 percent. On the other hand, the governor, former governor of the next-door state of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, was way back in the pack.
What does that say about his campaign, after all the time he spent in Iowa?
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Yes. This is a much worse poll for Tim Pawlenty than it is for Mitt Romney, because, as you say, he has spent a lot of time in Iowa. He has put together really an A-list campaign. He has been doing all of the things that you really need to do to compete in the Iowa caucuses.
And yet his numbers were at six percent, right -- he was right there with Mitt -- with -- with Newt Gingrich and with Ron Paul, at a time when Newt Gingrich's campaign was imploding, and Ron Paul is still seen as maybe a more fringe libertarian candidate.
So what he's doing in Iowa is not happening, at least at this point. Now, I think that there may be an opportunity for Tim Pawlenty still. He may be sort of the tortoise to Michele Bachmann's hare. She's moving up fast, but she could still flame out.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, he has put together really a core, loyal core of support. And these folks are supporting him even though he has not been here in Iowa. He's only been here once this cycle. And so he's got a group of people that are loyal. If he decides to come back and campaign, he has an opportunity to build on that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is early, but we have got lots of questions for how these candidates are doing early on.
Kathie Obradovich, thanks very much.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: All right. Thank you.