Bachmann's Celebrity Campaign

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 15 2011 9:25 AM

Bachmann's Celebrity Campaign

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin report on last night's GOP dinner in Waterloo, where for the first timeMichele Bachmann and Rick Perry shared a stage. Sort of. Perry worked the room. Bachmann waited to make her entrance until after he was done.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

She camped out in her bus, parked on the street in front of a nearby Ramada Hotel, until it was time to take the stage. Even after a local official’s introduction, Bachmann was nowhere to be found. It was not until a second staffer assured her that the lighting had been changed and a second introduction piped over the loudspeakers that she entered the former dance hall here. By the time she made her big entrance to bright lights and blaring music, the crowd seemed puzzled.
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It's true. Bachmann was able to narrowly win the straw poll -- getting around five votes for every six tickets her campaign dispensed -- but she is running a very un-Iowa celebrity campaign. What do I mean? The classic Iowa campaign, especially if we're talking about an underdog candidate like Bachmann still is, is extremely personal. The candidate shows up, gives a speech, and leaves after every voter leaves.

Bachmann's "Meet Me in Ames" tour was more like the blitz you see before an election. Over one week in Iowa, before the straw poll, I saw her speak five times. A stage was set up outside, where cameras could get good, sun-bleached shots. Voters were urged to stand close to the stage or behind it -- also for good shots. As "Promised Land" played, Bachmann's bus came into view; during the second playing she exited it. She spoke for roughly 20 minutes. When her speech ended, she stayed on the stage to shake hands, sign autographs, and get buttonholed in very short "thank-you-for-what-you're-doing" conversations. Only once did I see her break the format, with a town hall meeting on Monday that featured five audience questions. (This was the event where she blew off a question about Newsweek's crazy eyes cover.) As she shook hands there, I noticed a young man ask a question beginning with "There's one thing I wanted to ask you." She smiled at him and turned to talk someone else.

More examples. Every candidate who participated in the poll spoke at the Iowa State Fair's candidate soapbox. All were alotted around 30 minutes. Bachmann showed up late for her speech and spoke for four minutes, taking no questions. After she won the straw poll, reporters and fans swarmed her at her campaign bus. She ignored reporters' questions, but Marcus Bachmann took a couple of questions, more when he was cornered by NBC News's Andrea Mitchell. After two questions from her, though, the campaign's communications director whispered something to him, and he got on the bus. One minute later he came out to hand balloons to members of the media.

"Balloons for reporters!" he said. "You're a reporter? Have a balloon."

Reporters kept trying to ask questions, along the lines of "how do you feel?" and "Are you worried about how close this was?" Marcus just smiled and passed out balloons.

The point of all of this: Perry won't have to change much to be more accessible than Bachmann is, and it would be unusual for her to change and become more accessible.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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