Is Michele Bachmann Just Another Mike Huckabee?

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter)

All roads lead to Iowa this week, and the first stop on the 2012 campaign trail is the city of Waterloo -- the childhood home of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and the place where she will officially open her 2012 presidential bid today.

“I have a titanium spine,” Bachmann told ABC’s Jonathan Karl in an interview from the Hawkeye State. “I will stand strong for those values that I learned here in Iowa and I'm gonna take that voice to the White House.”

Bachmann, a conservative firebrand who represents the sixth Congressional district of Minnesota, is returning to Waterloo today to showcase her Iowa roots on the heels of a new Des Moines Register poll out this weekend that showed her running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney among Republican voters in the state.

The poll put Romney on top of the GOP field with 23 percent, followed closely behind by Bachmann who is at 22 percent. Rounding out the top three was businessman Herman Cain.

Keep in mind that those numbers may only represent an early snapshot of things to come. In May 2007, the same poll showed Romney leading the pack in Iowa with 29 percent support and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain tied for second with 16 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who eventually went on to win the Iowa Caucuses, was still languishing in single digits.

Bachmann's biggest hurdle will be to prove that she has appeal outside of the ideologically narrow Iowa Caucus electorate. She can't afford to be pigeon-holed as "just another Mike Huckabee," who won the 2008 Caucuses there largely due to his resonance with social conservative voters.

And the scrutiny on her is already intensifying. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace went so far as to ask, “Are you a flake?”

"I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I'm a serious person," Bachmann replied.

She’ll also have to contend with an aggressive Iowa campaign being waged by fellow Minnesotan, Tim Pawlenty, who wound up with 6 percent support in this weekend’s Des Moines Register poll. Pawlenty is driving hard toward the Ames Straw Poll in mid-August and he’s going on the air in the state with television and radio ads.

Today his first radio spot, titled "Results Not Rhetoric" is up, highlighting “Gov. Pawlenty’s record of conservative change in a liberal state,” according to his campaign.

And then there’s the looming shadow of Sarah Palin, who just happens to be dropping into Pella, Iowa tomorrow to attend the premiere of the documentary film about her, “The Undefeated.”

Palin could still be a formidable wild card in the 2012 campaign, but it appears that time may be running short -- even for someone of her stature. As our Jonathan Karl noted on “Good Morning America” today, when he asked one prominent Iowa supporter about Palin’s prospects in the state, he answered, “Who?”

BACHMANN REFUSES TO ACCEPT WALLACE’S APOLOGY. In a web video posted on Sunday, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace apologized for his “Are-you-a-flake” question. But when ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked if that was enough for her, Bachmann said, “no.”

KARL: “Do you … do you accept his apology?”

BACHMANN: “Well, I think that it's insulting-- to insinuate-- that-- that a candidate for the president is less than serious. I'm a very serious individual. I have a very strong background, a strong resume”

KARL: “But did you … do you accept his apology?”

BACHMANN: No, those-- those-- those are the small issues. I'm focused on the big ones.”

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Karen Travers and Amy Walter interview Matt Lewis, author of the “The Quotable Rogue: The Ideals of Sarah Palin in Her Own Words.” Also on the program, in case you missed it, Jon Karl’s interview with Sen. Jim DeMint who is warning presidential candidates that he won’t support them unless sign onto his debt ceiling pledge. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

WHITE HOUSE WATCH: OBAMA JOINS DEBT TALKS. “President Obama is stepping into stalled negotiations over the nation’s debt today, hosting separate White House meetings with the top two leaders of the Senate,” ABC’s Mary Bruce reports. “According to the White House, the Oval Office meetings with Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this afternoon are ‘to discuss the status of the negotiations to find common ground on a balanced approach to deficit reduction.’ Negotiations over the nation’s $14.3 trillion deficit broke down last week after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked out of the negotiations, led by Biden, after they reached an ‘impasse’ over the Republicans’ opposition to raising taxes. … The White House insisted last week that the negotiations were always going to reach this point. … Vice President Biden will also attend today’s meetings.”

TAPPER’S TAKE: WHITE HOUSE GROWS ‘LESS OPTIMISITIC.’ With the debt ceiling deadline coming up on Aug. 2, ABC's Jake Tapper reports that White House officials “are less optimistic now than they were a week ago. … They still say that at the end of the day, the eight leaders of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- know that the U.S. cannot default on its debt obligations.” Speaking to Ohio Democrats over the weekend, Vice President Biden upped the rhetoric, saying that any deficit reduction proposal that would seek Medicare cuts while not touching tax cuts for millionaires “borders on the immoral,” which as Tapper notes, might be a taste of the rhetorical wars to come. Watch Tapper’s “Good Morning America” report on President Obama’s efforts to get the debt negotiations back on track:


HOUSE DEMOCRATIC GROUP GOES ON OFFENSE. The House Majority PAC is unveiling a paid advertising campaign today against Republican members of Congress over their vote to reform the country’s Medicare system. The six-figure blitz, which includes television spots and radio ads, is targeting Reps. Rick Crawford and Tim Griffin, R-Ariz., Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Il., Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., Rep. Charlie Bass, R-NH, and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. “House Republicans like to talk about reducing the debt but the budget they voted for provides a trillion dollars in budget-busting tax breaks for the wealthy,” Ali Lapp, executive director of the House Majority PAC, said in a statement. “Even worse, House Republicans voted to end Medicare as we know it, while forcing seniors to pay as much as $6400 more a year for the same health care coverage. The House Majority PAC will continue holding Republicans accountable for their backwards priorities.” The ad campaign runs through June 30.

HERMAN CAIN DROPS A BOMB. “In his first online fundraising effort, republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is hoping for a ‘money bomb’ today as the June 30 quarterly fundraising deadline looms,” ABC’s Katie Slaman reports. “Cain has been calling on supporters for weeks to make pledges to donate to his campaign on June 27 to create a ‘money bomb.’ His campaign’s goal was to get 2,500 pledges before today, but as of Sunday afternoon, they’d received less than half of those pledges. Their website opened to donations at midnight and their campaign is keeping a running tally of the money that comes in. It remains to be seen how much money he can rake in today, but Cain’s overall fundraising numbers for the quarter aren’t expected to come anywhere near frontrunner former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s. Nevertheless, some momentum is building around the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He came in third place in a Des Moines Register Iowa poll released over the weekend, getting support from 10 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers. … The GOP presidential hopeful will unveil his economic plan on Wednesday in Greenville, S.C.”

THE FIGHT FOR FLORIDA… “The first steps on the path to the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 seem destined to produce a split decision in a divided party,” USA Today’s Susan Page writes. “In a campaign with no commanding front-runner, Florida looms as a megastate showdown between the party's traditional conservatives and its new breed of populist activists.” Though the first caucus and primary states -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- grab more media attention, Page notes, candidates’ seem to be counting on Florida as a potential game changer. “A candidate like Romney could rebound here after suffering setbacks from social conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina, for instance. Or a Tea Party favorite like Bachmann could demonstrate her ability to prevail with a broad electorate. … ‘It's a state that demonstrates a battleground appeal for a candidate,’ says Romney adviser Kevin Madden. ‘It's a state that demonstrates an ability to win an electorate with a cross-section of the entire Republican Party. It's one of those contests that shows you have the infrastructure and resources to compete going forward.’”

…FLORIDA’S FIGHT. USA Today’s Page adds: “Only four states were officially sanctioned to hold early contests, starting with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 6 and followed in short order by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Other states, including Florida, would have to wait until March 6 . Florida is not cooperating with this timetable, though, scheduling its primary for Jan. 31. That would push the other early contests forward into January. … The national party's rules calls for penalties on a state that votes before March 6, though, including cutting their convention delegations in half. [Republican state Chairman Dave] Bitner says the Florida's GOP leaders hope the compromise date will persuade RNC leaders to relent, although Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus says the rules give him little flexibility.”

SOUTH CAROLINA CAUCUS. SAY WHAT? “South Carolina’s much-watched first-in-the-South Republican presidential primary could become a far less important first-in-the-South caucus,” The State newspaper’s John O’Connor reports. “Without the help of the state, the party may not legally be able to hold a primary in early 2012, Chad Connelly, the recently elected chairman of the S.C. GOP, said Friday. Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to veto part of a state budget proposal, now on her desk, that could partially pay for that primary. Connelly is concerned that veto would mean the State Election Commission could not help run the GOP primary, forcing the party to opt for a caucus. Switching to a caucus would end the state’s three-decade tradition of holding the first-in-the-South primary. That primary’s importance has been bolstered by state Republican voters’ record of picking the eventual GOP nominee in every race since Ronald Reagan in 1980. The state also would lose national exposure, prestige and millions of dollars that campaigns, media and others spend during the event. The state GOP is just one of several groups anxiously awaiting Haley’s first vetoes as governor. Before Wednesday, the new governor must sign off or issue vetoes for part or all of a $6 billion general fund budget plan for the state’s fiscal year, which starts July 1.”

THE NOTE’S BOTTOM LINE: A move to the caucus system would be a huge problem for someone like Jon Huntsman who is counting on independents to come out and vote in the primary. But, if the goal is to scare Gov. Haley into giving up her decision to cut state funds for a primary it's not going to work. She is simply not all that interested in currying favor with GOP establishment.

UTAH IN THE 2012 SPOTLIGHT. “Though Utah is not a crucial early primary state on the road to the Republican presidential nomination, the 2012 campaign could take an occasional detour through it during the next several months as former Gov. Jon Huntsman and honorary favorite son Mitt Romney battle for the GOP’s White House nod,” Roll Call’s David Drucker notes. “Utah Republicans do not expect the Beehive State to become some sort of GOP primary battleground in line with the typical early states that of late have included Florida and Nevada. But with Huntsman and Romney both gunning for the nomination and the right to face President Barack Obama in 2012, Republicans are predicting that Utah will see more than its usual share of fundraising and public campaigning during the primary season.” Romney visited last week and Huntsman is on his way in. “‘It’s basically a fundraising race,’ Utah House Majority Whip Gregory Hughes, a Huntsman supporter, said in an interview. … Hughes predicted many Utah Republicans would support both candidates and believes Huntsman would even the fundraising playing field rather quickly….But interviews with backers of each candidate suggest that some tension exists. … The Utah-based Republican operative speculated that conservative state party activists favor neither candidate and would instead prefer the GOP nominate either Rep. Michele Bachmann(Minn.), who is expected to announce her candidacy today in Iowa, or Rep. Ron Paul (Texas).’The grass-roots faithful aren’t impressed by Romney or Huntsman.’”

2012 CANDIDATES SIDE-STEP HILL INSIDERS. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is a Republican powerhouse in his home state, so you’d think GOP presidential candidates would be knocking down his door for an endorsement ahead of the caucuses in the Hawkeye State. Not so much this year,” Politico’s Manu Raju notes. “Grassley is hardly alone: Across Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers report scant interaction with presidential hopefuls. The chase for congressional backing has been moving at a snail’s pace this year compared with the previous election cycle, a reflection of the slowly forming presidential field, concern in Congress about the strength of the candidates and a desire by White House hopefuls to keep their distance from an unpopular Washington. ‘Given the landscape, would you want to be endorsed by some Washington insider?’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who plans to remain neutral in the race, asked half-jokingly. ‘It’s the kiss of death.’ It’s a remarkable contrast from the summer of 2007, when the endorsement chase on Capitol Hill was well underway. By midsummer 2007, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 29 congressional endorsements compared with 27 for Arizona Sen. John McCain. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani touted his 21 backers, while former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson had 18 supporters.”


@ RyanLizza : I didn't think the Wallace Q about Bachmann being flaky was sexist but the reaction from non-PC female journos I trust has changed my mind.

@ pwire : Christie says he'll oppose gay marriage in New Jersey...

@ mlcalderone : Wemple launches new WaPo media blog -- explains what it is and isn't

@ petesouza : New behind-the-scenes photos of President Obama from June:

@ brianstelter : I'm writing a book about morning TV. "The Top Of The Morning." Details: Tumblr:


(all times local)

* Michele Bachmann formally announces her candidacy for president in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa at 9 a.m.

* Ron Paul will speak with voters at noon at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines, Iowa.

* Jon Huntsman holds a fundraising breakfast in San Francisco, a roundtable in the Silicon Valley, a luncheon in Los Angeles and a reception in Orange County, Calif.

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