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Line Of Likely Republican Presidential Contenders Forms To Right

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (file photo)

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (file photo)

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is the latest Republican to emerge as a possible 2012 U.S. presidential candidate, as early campaign activity begins to intensify. Some of the likely contenders are also focusing their latest criticism on President Barack Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya.

Michele Bachmann is a three-term U.S. Representative from Minnesota. Bachmann is an outspoken conservative on social issues and a favorite of so-called Tea Party activists who advocate deep cuts in the size of the central government.

Bachmann told ABC’s Good Morning America that she intends to make a final decision on a presidential bid within the next few months.

"I’m in for 2012 in that I want to be a part of the conversation of making sure that President Obama only serves one term, not two," said Bachmann.

Bachmann is one of a growing number of Republicans moving closer to formally announcing a run for president. Earlier this week former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee. Several other likely contenders have been visiting early presidential contest states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Michele Bachmann is little known nationally but does have a following among conservative activists who play a key role in the nominating process for the Republican presidential nominee.

Fordham University political scientist Costas Panagopolous says compared to past election cycles, the 2012 race for the Republican nomination appears to be wide open and offers the opportunity for lesser-known candidates to emerge from the pack.

"There is no established frontrunner or heir-apparent to the party," said Panagopolous. "Certainly to some extent having high name recognition at an early stage is helpful. But it is no guarantee of getting the nomination or even winning an election."

Bachmann could benefit if former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin decides against a presidential bid. Bachmann appeals to some of the same voters that Palin does, and Republican political strategists say conservatives are looking for a presidential candidate in 2012 they can get excited about and rally around.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at the top of the Republican field with 21 percent support, followed in order by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But the presidential field is developing slowly and big names like Huckabee and Palin do not appear eager to join the race, which experts say could allow lesser known candidates to emerge as potentially strong contenders.

John Fortier monitors U.S. politics at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington:

"Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, both big figures, well known, high in the polls for Republicans, seem to be wavering a bit," said Fortier. "Mitt Romney, I think, is almost certain to get in. So, we’ll see a big field."

Meanwhile, President Obama’s handling of Libya has emerged as a major point of criticism for some of the likely Republican presidential contenders.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour complained in an interview that the president has not shown leadership on the situation in Libya. Sarah Palin said there is lots of confusion over the mission in Libya, while Tim Pawlenty said the decision to support a no-fly zone over Libya came too late.

The first debate among Republican presidential contenders is scheduled for early May at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Libary in California.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.