Michele Bachmann · Sarah Palin

Bachmann vs. Palin: Who’s the Better 2012 Candidate?

Mother Jones

Assessing the pros and cons of the tea party’s favorite flamethrowers.

At first glance, you might think you were seeing double. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are both hard-right Republican firebrands with a populist touch, a love of the spotlight, and devoted throngs of conservative followers. Though both have been regularly shunned by the Washington establishment, they’ve proven to be prodigious fundraisers who’ve competed for the title of “Tea Party Queen”—and have been floated as presidential contenders. The two even bear a passing resemblance to each other.

But though Palin and Bachmann may seem like GOP doppelgangers, there’s a lot separating them as well. And the differences have led a growing chorus of Beltway watchers to conclude that Bachmann would actually be the more credible candidate of the two. Having watched the Minnesota congresswoman on the trail for years, Minnesota political operatives on both sides of the aisle warn against simply laughing off Bachmann. “You underestimate Michele Bachmann at your own peril,” says Zach Rodvold, the campaign manager for her Democratic opponent in 2010.

Bachmann is expected to form a presidential exploratory committee in the next few months and has already trekked out to Iowa to make early inroads. Though the Minnesota Republican remains a longshot, she also could finally give tea party types a candidate to rally behind in a decidedly lukewarm GOP primary—and could be a (relatively) more formidable candidate than the former governor of Alaska. Here’s why:

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