By Ken Feltman (originally published in Politico)
Rep. Michele Bachmann’s most important achievement in the New Hampshire debate was the contrast she created between her competent performance and the image that many have of Sarah Palin’s lack of substance.
Bachmann hopes people will say, “she’s like Sarah Palin but without the problems.” That may not be fair to Palin but by not jumping into the race, Palin allows others to mold and misstate her image. Bachmann is an opportunist and an effective one: How many times did she remind debate-watchers that she is the chair of the House Tea Party Caucus? She created the caucus as a platform for herself.
Bachmann’s second major achievement was demonstrating that she could handle the role of “alternative to Mitt Romney.” As others stumbled or played it safe, she won style points on both likability and cogency. Her social conservatism, which may be a problem later, served her well last night.
Expect some of those who have been attacking Palin to start digging into Bachmann’s past. As for the other GOP candidates trying to catch Romney, expect them to be wary of attacking Bachmann. A few may patronize her. She will have a temporary advantage because the boys will not know what to make of her. Expect her to exploit every opportunity.