Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is increasingly serious about joining the wide-open race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
And a growing number of conservative activists, legislators and political operatives in key states stand ready to help her if she does.
Already, Bachmann’s few months of spadework have paid dividends in Iowa. Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a leading Tea Party figure in the state, told CNN he plans to support Bachmann if she runs.
“There is a void out there that needs to be filled,” Sorenson said. “I hope she decides to run. She is somebody that has the credentials to fire up the grassroots. She would be someone who could unite different factions of the party. She is a strong fiscal and social conservative.”
Bachmann has Iowa roots – she was born in Waterloo – and is also close with Rep. Steve King, her colleague in the House who represents a conservative swath of western Iowa but has a dedicated grassroots following across the state.
Though Bachmann was not among the five potential candidates at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual spring forum on Monday, King won cheers from the audience of evangelicals when he plugged Bachmann’s outspoken opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Bachmann, the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, arrives in New Hampshire on Friday for a two-day barnstorm of the first-in-the-nation primary state, her first foray there since floating her potential White House candidacy back in January.
News of the trip immediately stirred up grassroots excitement: A Bachmann-headlined fundraiser Saturday for the New Hampshire GOP was re-located to a larger venue because of “a very strong initial interest in this event,” according to a state party official.
Bachmann has already met with prominent interest groups and well-placed officials in early caucus and primary states of Iowa and South Carolina, where both Tea Partiers and Republican regulars have been impressed by her easy rapport with conservative crowds.
The trips are having an acute impact on Bachmann’s thinking about the presidential race, those around her say.
“She is leaning more toward doing it,” one Republican close to Bachmann told CNN. “The people she’s meeting on the ground, they love her. She is definitely more encouraged when she makes these trips.”
Bachmann’s political advisers are quietly laying the groundwork for a dark horse campaign should she choose to join the Republican fray at some point in the spring or early summer, when she has said she will make a final decision about the race. She is returning to Iowa later this month, and has scheduled a swing through the South Carolina low country in April.
“She is seriously considering running and getting a full team lined up and making sure it’s the right one,” said Ryan Rhodes, the chairman of the Iowa Tea Party. “It will be different than everyone else. She will have a very good team behind her if she does decide to run.”
Asked about her organizational efforts, Bachmann’s chief-of-staff, Andy Parrish, reiterated that his boss is giving serious thought to running. But he would not comment on specific political outreach.
“If the congresswoman decides to do run, she is going to do it her way, and her way has never been the establishment way,” Parrish said.