Michele Bachmann faces scrutiny ahead of Iowa straw poll

Michele Bachmann Newsweek cover

This might just be a make-or-break week for Rep. Michele Bachmann in her bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Bachmann is the subject of two major profiles this week - one in Newsweek and the other in the New Yorker - that will effectively introduce the candidate to millions of voters who have not yet paid much attention to the presidential race.

The Newsweek profile lauds the "petite and prim" Minnesota representative for her "simple, black-and-white distillations of complex problems" and her "poise and precision" in transforming "Washington's dysfunctional gridlock to understandable soundbites." It also points to charges of hypocrisy against the Tea Party favorite for lobbying for earmarks and stimulus funds despite her anti-spending posture, as well as CBS News/New York Times polling suggesting Americans are souring on the Tea Party.

More controversial than anything in the article itself was the cover photograph that accompanied it, pictured above, which many say is unflattering or worse. (One website has already taken to running the shot alongside a photograph of Charles Manson.) The cover shot prompted charges of liberal media bias from conservatives like blogger Michelle Malkin, who accused the magazine of "bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo cliches about conservative female public figures."

The long New Yorker piece, meanwhile, delves into Bachmann's influences, and it raises plenty of potential headaches for her campaign in the process. In addition to documenting some of Bachmann's misstatements -- such as an apparently inaccurate telling of her family history, the story discusses Bachmann's links to evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer is described as having believed that Christians are mandated by the Bible "to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns," and who argued for the violent overthrow of the government unless the Roe v. Wade decision was reversed.

According to the article, Bachmann is also a fan of a book by creationist Nancy Pearcey called "Total Truth," which argues that a Biblical worldview trumps secular understanding of truth: While Christians may on occasion be "mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right," Pearcey writes, "the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false--for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view."

As a state Senate candidate, according to the story, Bachmann recommended a book by J. Steven Wilkins, who casts slavery in a positive light, writing, "most southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though--by modern standards--spare existence." Wilkins wrote that slavery bred "mutual respect" grounded in Christianity, one that existed in place of any "adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity."

Another writer, David A. Noebel of Summit Ministries, was lauded by Bachmann as having a "wonderful and worthwhile" message; Noebel argued that the Beatles were a tool of the communists used to infiltrate the minds of young Americans and wrote a pamphlet entitled, "The Homosexual Revolution: End Time Abomination." Bachmann, who has played down her controversial claims about gay rights during her presidential campaign, has in the past called homosexuality "personal enslavement" and suggested that gay rights activists view "our children" as "the prize." She attended a church service Sunday in which the pastor deemed homosexuality "immoral" and "unnatural."

Bachmann has been spending virtually all of her time in recent days traversing Iowa ahead of Saturday's straw poll. Thanks to her strong natural advantage in the state - she was born there, and her socially-conservative message resonates with the Iowa GOP electorate, a majority of which is majority born again or evangelical - she is the frontrunner to win the straw poll. That matters because a victory is often taken as a sign that a campaign has the organization necessary to win the Iowa caucuses, and thus generates donations, support and positive media coverage -- despite the fact that straw poll wins have not necessarily been a strong predictor of either the caucus winner of the eventual nominee.

With rival Tim Pawlenty making a hard charge for a strong straw poll finish, Bachmann's campaign is trying to manage expectations. Her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, told Politico, "Since we were the last ones to start [a presidential campaign] and have been badly outspent, we will be happy to finish near or at the top." 

Bachmann, like Pawlenty and other candidates, will be paying the entry fee for supporters who want to attend the straw poll, and offering them live music and free food in exchange for their support. (Among those performing in Bachmann's air-conditioned tent will be country superstar Randy Travis.) The Bachmann campaign is so focused on the straw poll that Bachmann's Iowa rallies have names like the "'Join me in Ames in 5 Days!' Rally." On Thursday, she'll attend the Iowa State fair in an attempt to win over the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who flock to Des Moines for the event and may stop for the straw poll in Ames along the way.

It's worth noting that Bachmann got a bit of bad news on Monday afternoon, when word came that Texas Governor Rick Perry will likely make his plans to enter the presidential race known on Saturday- potentially lessening Bachmann's boost coming out of the straw poll.

If all that's not enough action this week, Thursday brings the first Republican presidential debate to feature all the top tier candidates in the race: Bachmann, Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman are all participating. Bachmann shone in her first debate appearance, back in June; anything less than a repeat performance could slow her momentum heading into the straw poll.  And in light of her position in the polls and strong performance last time around, she'll have a target on her back.