March 24, 2011 -- Just over ten months before next February's Iowa caucuses Sarah Palin is returning from a recent trip to Israel. But Tea Party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann is already hitting the Hawkeye state capital.
Unlike Palin, all signs point to Bachmann running for the Republican presidential nomination later this year. In an Iowa version of ABC News' "Subway Series" shot on the Des Moines city trolley, the Minnesota Republican told ABC's Jonathan Karl, "I'm in."
Well, sort of.
"I'm in for 2012 in that I want to be a part of the conversation in making sure that President Obama only serves one term, not two, because I want to make sure that we get someone who's going to be making the country work again. That's what I'm in for," Bachmann said.
"But I haven't made a decision yet to announce, obviously, if I'm a candidate or not, but I'm in for the conversation."
She said the feedback she has gotten thus far about a possible White House run has been "encouraging." And she thinks the president is beatable.
"I think that right now if the election were today I don't think that the president would be re-elected," she said.
In the wide-ranging interview, Bachmann, first elected in 2007, portrayed GOP leaders in Congress as weak-kneed moderates more eager to compromise with the president rather than confront him.
"We need to go toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball with the president and say, Mr. President, you are wrong on the government takeover of healthcare."
As a new member of the House Intelligence Committee, Bachmann had some stinging criticism for the Obama's handling of the situation in Libya.
"I look at the Libya situation and I think it's very concerning because the president essentially decided that American air sorties, air strikes, would be made with American soldiers and because of that, we're committed now," she said.
"I think that this is an effort where we're now engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan and to extend our troops into a third venue, with no overriding goal, no overriding objective, and no ending point, I think, is very dangerous."
From foreign policy to the health care reform, watching Bachmann on a whirlwind day in Iowa's capital, it sure sounds like she's gearing up for a run for the White House -- and echoes of Palin can be heard at every turn.
In a speech earlier in the day to a crowd of a few hundred people at a home-schooling convention in Des Moines, Bachmann, the biological mother of five children and the foster mother of another 23, sounded positively Palin-esque on the stump.
"I am one tough cookie," she said. "I am a very strong tough individual."
"I may be 5-foot-2 and wearing a yellow suit, but I am one tough lady when it comes to defending our freedoms and our nation," she quipped a few minutes later.
Bachmann initially evaded the question when asked directly if she would run if Palin does.
"I love Sarah Palin. I love her. She's a beautiful individual and I'm privileged to have gotten to know her," she said.
So would she run if Palin does, too?
"My decision will be based on whether or not I think I need to run," Bachmann said. "I wouldn't see myself as running against a Republican competitor."
But as she has waded into presidential waters in recent weeks, Bachmann has already hit some rough seas. In New Hampshire earlier this month she misplaced one of the seminal moments in American history: the battle of Lexington and Concord and the "shot heard round the world" that began the Revolutionary War. She told a group of school children that the 1775 battles took place in New Hampshire, when in fact they happened in Massachusetts.
In addition, earlier this year Bachmann -- whose reverence for the nation's founding fathers and love of the Constitution define her politics -- told an Iowa crowd that the founders had "worked tirelessly until slavery was no more."
But this week she shrugged off those gaffes as no big deal.
"People make mistakes," she sighed.
So does Bachmann stand a real shot at making some noise in Iowa? According to Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn, she has a Tea Party following in the Hawkeye state that is watching her every move.
"We don't know right now what the size of the Tea Party electorate is in the Hawkeye State, but, you know, certainly that's a group that is very interested in whether Michele Bachmann is going to run or not. I think they line up with her stated principles of limited government, economic freedom, shrinking the size of things at the federal level, so I think there's an opportunity for her here," Strawn said.
"But like any candidate that comes to Iowa to be successful, the key ingredient is you have to be in Iowa -- you have to be in our coffee shops, you have to talk to our farmers in the fields, and really giving them the opportunity to look you in the eye and ask you those tough questions that we demand of anyone that wants our vote."
Strawn said the race is shaping up to be a "fascinating" one, but candidates must take note of the key to success in Iowa: "being here."
In that sense, at least, Bachmann already has a head start on Palin.