Michele Bachmann's victory in the Ames Straw Poll and Tim Pawlenty's subsequent withdrawal from the race Sunday solidified the three-term congresswoman's status as a first-tier candidate who must now battle for the base with front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
Soon after Pawlenty's announcement, Bachmann made the rounds of all five national Sunday morning TV talk shows -- a feat accomplished by only a handful of newsmakers. Emerging from a contest that caters to the more conservative, evangelical wing of the GOP, Bachmann sought to paint herself as a candidate who can appeal to voters of all stripes.
Whether that is true remains to be seen, as she and other Republican candidates criss-cross the country vying for support in early primary states. Bachmann will travel to South Carolina on Tuesday for a series of rallies.
And while the straw poll was an early victory for Bachmann, the ultimate strength of her campaign may rest on her performance against Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry, who entered the race Saturday, boasts the solid record Bachmann lacks and is expected to appeal to the same class of voters that propelled her to the front of the pack.
She deferred opportunities to directly contrast herself with Perry on Sunday, instead taking on the larger question of whether she is a viable candidate among a broader swath of the electorate.
"Everywhere I go across the United States, Democrats, independents, apolitical people say to me, 'Michele, I'm voting for you,'" Bachmann said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Perry and Bachmann crossed paths at a Republican rally on Sunday night in Bachmann's hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. They both addressed the crowd.
Bachmann told the room that her goal is "to be bold, new, different." On national security, she plans to "take off my politically correct glasses and look exactly at the threats that the United States is facing today."
The congresswoman, who must now fight with Perry to attract social-conservative voters, added that they will be a key bloc in the next election.
"We need to have social conservatives in our tent and not kick them out," Bachmann said. "Without social conservatives, it will be very difficult to beat Barack Obama in 2012."
Earlier in the day, on CNN's "State of the Union," she highlighted the unemployment rates facing Hispanic and African-American youth. "This won't be just a conservative election, this is really going to be an economics election," Bachmann said.
Notably, Bachmann repeated that she was elected in a "swing district," despite the fact that her congressional district is widely viewed as the most conservative in Minnesota.
Bachmann also repeatedly harkened back to her work on education while serving in the Minnesota Senate as evidence of her legislative accomplishments. As a state senator, she was a major force behind the effort to repeal Profiles of Learning, a series of graduation standards.
"We actually were able to get the federal government out of our education system and enhance our high academic standards," Bachmann said on Meet The Press. "And I did that by bringing together Democrats, Republicans and independents."
But she also made it clear she is not looking to meet in the middle -- at least not on the hot topics. "On big issues, I don't compromise," she said on CNN. "I don't compromise my core sets of principles."
Her victory in Ames prompted more scrutiny from TV hosts about past statements regarding homosexuality and being "submissive" to her husband.
Asked about her 2004 comments that the gay and lesbian lifestyle was "personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement," Bachmann told Meet The Press' David Gregory that she is "not running to be anyone's judge."
"I don't judge them," she added.
Gregory also pressed Bachmann on statements that she pursued a post-doctorate degree in tax law because the Bible says wives should "be submissive to your husbands."
Bachmann responded, as she did during Friday's debate, that submission "means respect" and she and her husband respect each other.
"I didn't even have to check with my wife and I know those two things aren't equal, submission and respect," Gregory said.
"Well, in our house it is," Bachmann shot back.
University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said the next test for Bachmann will be fundraising on a larger scale, especially if she wants to keep up with Perry.
"Perry is a proven fundraiser with big donors. And Bachmann is a proven fundraiser with small donors," Pearson said. "But she really needs to expand her fundraising network and her network of Republican supporters beyond the Tea Party and evangelicals."
Eric Roper 651-222-1210