"Congresswoman Bachmann and I ... share many of the same issue positions," Pawlenty told Gregory. "We're both conservatives. I think the main difference is this -- I've got executive leadership in a public setting with a record of accomplishment and results under difficult and challenging circumstances, and she has served in Congress. And in that regard, her record of accomplishment is, you know, like I said, nonexistent."
Notice that Pawlenty did not try to distance himself from Bachmann on the issues. He did not try to get to her right -- or to her left. He wanted to signal to voters that, philosophically, he stands right there -- on the right -- with Bachmann.
He used his agreement with her to ratify his own conservative credentials.
But, assuming that Pawlenty and Bachmann truly do take essentially the same stands on the issues (a fact likely to be either demonstrated or refuted by deeper research into their records and more direct debates as the campaign moves forward), will Pawlenty's argument that he is a superior candidate to Bachmann because he was a governor in Minnesota while she was a congresswoman in Washington, D.C., actually pry away conservative caucus and primary voters from Bachmann and deliver them to Pawlenty?
I doubt it.
When Pawlenty points out that Bachmann has only been able to demonstrate her commitment to the principles they both share by serving in Congress, what he is in effect saying is Bachmann has already demonstrated she can take his principles -- that is, conservative principles -- to Washington, D.C., and not abandon them.
That, of course, is exactly what Republican caucus and primary voters want the next president to do. They want someone they can trust to take their beliefs and values to Washington and stand up to David Gregory and Nancy Pelosi -- as well as to the Republican congressional leadership.
Bachmann is currently fourth in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls -- behind Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But Perry and Palin have yet to join the race, and perhaps never will. The door is closing fast.
In the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls, Romney is at 21.7 percent, just ahead of Bachmann, who is at 19.3 percent. But Bachmann has the momentum -- and was leading Romney in the most recent Iowa poll, 25 percent to 21 percent.
What ought to worry the Obama campaign is that Bachmann, a former Democrat, may have something another former Democrat, Ronald Reagan, had before her: a powerful ability as an outspoken conservative to pull in precisely the type of swing voters who decide modern American presidential elections.
These are culturally conservative Americans -- fed up with the way our economy is going -- who live in the northern Midwest.