Tea Party Caucus leader Michele Bachmann has yet to decide if she will run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, but she got a ringing endorsement from the evangelical Christians at Liberty University in Virginia over the weekend. The conservative Minnesota representative finished first among the field of potential GOP presidential contenders in a straw poll conducted after a two-day gathering at the Christian college, narrowly edging out former Arkansas governor (and former Baptist preacher) Mike Huckabee for the win.
CNN reported Tuesday that Bachmann finished the straw poll with 23 percent of the vote. Huckabee polled 22 percent of the attendees. Neither of the potential GOP candidates appeared at the Christian gathering, which, according to Liberty’s website, hosted events that spoke to issues like “abortion, the economy, religious liberty, marriage and homosexuality, (and) Sharia Law.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who formed an information gathering entity last month somewhat akin to a presidential exploratory committee, did speak at the gathering. He garnered 21 percent of the straw poll vote.
Evangelicals make up a significant portion of the conservative voting electorate and could play a key role swinging votes in the upcoming election, especially when it comes to choosing a candidate for the Republican nomination. Bachmann, who already holds a prominent position in the tea party movement as the titular head of the elected members of the House of Representatives, could find a wellspring of popular support among the religious Right that might make her a more powerful player in the Republican primaries (and, by extension, the Republican National Convention).
The victory is Bachmann’s first. In fact, Bachmann has not garnered more than 10 percent of the vote at any straw poll to date (the 10 percent was recorded at the first straw poll conducted in South Carolina in York County, which Mike Huckabee won with 23 percent of the vote). What might be the most surprising aspect of the outcome of the Liberty poll is that Michele Bachmann polled higher than Mike Huckabee, whose evangelical credibility is a given.
It could also mean that the tea party leader is being taken more seriously by the electorate.
Still, she has not done well at tea party-centric events. A straw poll taken at American Policy Summit in Phoenix in late February had her place in sixth place with 6 percent of the 1600 votes cast. CNN reported that Georgia businessman Herman Cain finished first with 22 percent of the vote.
Straw polls are unscientific and reflective of the population on hand, which more likely as not generally reflect the central focus of the gathering. However, they can be important in that they allow candidates to focus resources in certain areas to strengthen their support. Such strategic reinforcement where candidates fare best can produce surprisingly positive results and be the difference between winning and losing a state in a primary — and national — election.