WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- Michele Bachmann's been revered and reviled in the years leading up to her presidential candidacy, but she shouldn't be ignored.
A Republican Minnesota Congressswoman, tea party favorite and progressive punching bag, Bachmann's pre-campaign career has been bolstered by fiery blasts against the Obama administration and its health care and policies. Bachmann also has been buffeted by embarrassing gaffes, including mistakenly placing the battles of Lexington and Concord in New Hampshire during a trip there in March, eviscerating the AmeriCorps program while her son was a member of its Teach For America organization and, last week, signing a marriage pledge suggesting black couples were better off under slavery.
Since announcing her intent to seek the Republican party's presidential nomination during a CNN debate last month, Bachmann has steered away from rhetorical improvisation and improved her message. She's already spent much of the summer making her case to straw-poll voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and making the economy the bedrock of her platform.
It seems to be working, too. A Rasmussen poll released just after the June 13 GOP debate put Bachmann in second place among potential Republican candidates, with 19% of the vote, trailing only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 33%. Fox News, however, has Bachmann trailing Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has not announced any intention of seeking the party's nomination.
Against President Barack Obama, Bachmann still trails. The Public Policy Poll group has Obama leading Bachmann by seven points in a potential matchup, a University of New Hampshire poll puts Obama ahead by six points and a McClatchy Newspaper/Marist College poll gives Obama a 12-point lead.
Those in the GOP who already may be counting Bachmann out for not being nearly as moderate as Romney should do so with great caution. There are still 15 and a half months before the general election, and TheStreet has come up with at least five reasons why Bachmann should be taken seriously as the campaign wears on:
Much of America was introduced to Bachmann during the 2008 presidential campaign when she shared her apprehensions about then-candidate Obama's "anti-American views." This obscures the fact that she'd been elected to office two years earlier and has held her seat in Congress for the past four years.
Of the GOP frontrunners, only Bachmann is in office. Amid the GOP field, only she, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter are still elected officials.
Unlike frontrunner Romney, though, Bachmann's been re-elected. Twice. Granted, the first reelection in 2008 was by a three-point margin in a race featuring an independent candidate who sucked up 10% of the vote, but that margin expanded to 12 points in her win last year and was still a better showing than Romney Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy, who lost to current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick by 21 points that same year after Romney quit.
It's also allowed Bachmann to put her record on the line and make claims her GOP foes can't. Romney, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty can lash out against bailouts for Wall Street, banks and automakers, but Bachmann actually voted against all of them. Sideline sitters such as Perry and Sarah Palin can screech about "Obamacare" all they'd like, but Bachmann opposed the health care legislation as well. The entire field can bemoan the Dodd-Frank changes to financial regulation, but only Bachmann introduced legislation to repeal it that was strong enough to earn the endorsement of California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House's oversight and reform committee.