ST. PAUL, Minn. — For Michele Bachmann, the laugh line doubled as a clear message that she thinks she’s ready for the rough-and-tumble of presidential politics.
“I had three brothers, no sisters – the best preparation for politics any girl could ever have,” the tea party favorite and three-term Minnesota congresswoman told a crowd in Waterloo, Iowa, on the eve of her campaign kickoff.
So far, however, Bachmann’s current opponents – all men – are treading lightly, seemingly sensitive both to offending her tea party supporters and to gender concerns.
She’s risen in polls in the lead-off caucus state of Iowa and elsewhere since entering the race last month. Surveys show her challenging the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in Iowa, and well ahead of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
It’s clear that she’s becoming a threat and that her rivals aren’t sure how to derail her without risking a backlash.
Take Pawlenty, who’s suddenly in her shadow.
When one of Pawlenty’s advisers mentioned Bachmann’s “sex appeal” as a political asset, his campaign rushed out an apology and the candidate distanced himself from a remark that some interpreted as sexist.
“It’s not an appropriate criteria for evaluating a candidate,” Pawlenty said.
Last week, he told The Associated Press while campaigning in Iowa that he had no immediate plans to criticize Bachmann as he has Romney.