With her standing in the polls slipping, Michele Bachmann needed to find a way to capture the spotlight she held earlier this summer.
She just may have done that tonight at the Tea Party Express/CNN debate in Tampa, Florida.
Bachmann, the founder of the Tea Party Caucus in the House, knew her audience well and it showed.
Unlike former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Bachmann took a pass at criticizing front-runner Texas Gov. Perry on Social Security and she refused to weigh in on Perry’s comment last month that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke may be “treasonous.”
Instead she waited patiently to pounce on Perry when the debate turned to the issues she knew would connect with the audience in the hall.
She attacked Perry for his decision to require HPV vaccinations in Texas, calling it “a government injection through executive order” and a “violation of a liberty interest.”
She knows that while the Tea Party activists are not fans of the federal government, they don’t love big business either.
“We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order,” said Bachmann, “there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate…The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor and this is just flat out wrong”
She also attacked Perry on illegal immigration – another issue that plays well in a GOP primary.
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if this performance will have any effect on her poll standing. Bachmann’s weakness has been her inability to prove she can expand her appeal beyond her Tea Party base. This debate performance only reinforced that perception .
Perry is learning why it’s no fun being the front-runner. He was under attack from all sides: Mitt Romney on Social Security; Ron Paul on taxes; Bachmann and Santorum on HPV and Bachmann on immigration.
The crowd initially stood behind the Texas Governor – cheering him on during his defense of his jobs record and Social Security positioning.
But as the debate wore on, Perry was clearly exhausted by having to play defense for almost two hours and the crowd seemed weary of him too.
The question now is how much more pummeling can the Texas Governor take before it starts to take a toll? There’s another debate in Florida less than two weeks from today. Can Perry get back on offense during that one?
Romney, meanwhile was speaking beyond the room not to the room. His attacks on Perry’s record on job creation fell flat – even eliciting a few boos among the audience.
And, while many pundits – Democrat and Republican – have called Perry’s “Ponzi scheme” description of Social Security problematic, it wasn’t much of an issue among this crowd.
Finally, no one looked more out of place on that stage than Jon Huntsman. He showed zero ability to connect with the audience. Even his attempts at jokes fell flat.