Add U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to the list of potential Republican presidential hopefuls, as the tea party favorite plans a trip later this month to the early caucus state of Iowa _ and creates possible complications for fellow Minnesotan and maybe-candidate Tim Pawlenty.
"Nothing's off the table for her," Andy Parrish, Bachmann's chief of staff, said Wednesday. "She's looking forward to traveling to Iowa for the fundraiser, and you know, she's looking forward over the next year to traveling and sharing the story of why we can't re-elect Barack Obama as president."
Parrish wouldn't say when Bachmann would decide. But he said her own decision-making process won't be influenced by those of either Pawlenty or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom Bachmann has previously called a good 2012 prospect.
Bachmann did not immediately respond to a request for comment made to her office. In a telephone interview Wednesday, she told KSTP-TV of St. Paul: "I have taken nothing off the table, but my focus again is on the narrative for why the United States would be better off without a President Obama."
Bachmann, who has drawn a national following with frequent guest appearances on cable and network news shows, broke fundraising records with a $13 million haul en route to winning her third term in Minnesota's 6th District. She also founded the congressional tea party caucus.
The 54-year-old is a native of Waterloo, Iowa, but as a child moved with her family to Minnesota. On Jan. 21, she will deliver the keynote speech at the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC Taxpayers Watchdog Reception in Des Moines _ an event co-hosted by U.S. Rep. Steve King and other prominent Iowa Republicans.
"Our mission is to educate Iowans on tax and spending issues both in the state and around the country, and to bring in voices that help to show a bigger picture," said Katie Koberg, vice president of Iowans for Tax Relief. "Congresswoman Bachmann is an extremely good choice in that regard."
Koberg stressed that Iowans for Tax Relief is by no means endorsing Bachmann, and pointed out that Pawlenty and other potential candidates have participated in events sponsored by the group.
Parrish wouldn't say whether Bachmann would talk presidential politics with state GOP leaders. He said she made several trips to Iowa in 2010, and while he wouldn't reveal specific travel plans in the coming months, he said she could end up in other early caucus or primary states.
Bachmann has also been mentioned in recent weeks as a possible U.S. Senate candidate against Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar in 2012.
While popular with party activists, Bachmann has struggled to parlay that into Capitol influence: Last month, she abandoned a bid for a top post in the House Republican conference after Speaker John Boehner and other prominent colleagues backed her opponent.
Bachmann and Palin, who also hasn't hinted at a timetable for her presidential decision, presented themselves as ideological allies at a Minneapolis rally last April. At the time, Bachmann suggested Palin would be a strong 2012 contender while Palin similarly lavished praise on Bachmann.
Pawlenty, whose two-term stint as Minnesota governor ended earlier this week, has laid the groundwork for a presidential campaign and made frequent trips to Iowa and other key states in recent months.
He has promised a decision in the next few months, and probably stands to lose the most if Bachmann jumps in. They share the same geographical base and the fiery Bachmann has generally inspired a more fervent following among both religious and fiscal conservatives than the low-key Pawlenty.
Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant declined to comment on a possible Bachmann candidacy.
Though they've maintained a cordial public relationship as the state's two most prominent elected Republicans, Pawlenty and Bachmann have never been seen as close political allies.
In September, both pulled their names from a Values Voters Summit straw poll of potential 2012 GOP contenders. Pawlenty cited his inability to attend because of an Asia trade mission. Bachmann spoke at the event, but dropped from the poll after her then-opponent suggested she had bigger goals on her mind than her congressional seat.
Asked if the GOP presidential race would have room for two Minnesota Republicans, Parrish deferred: "I can't answer that because the decision hasn't been made."
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