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Palin, who? Bachmann steps it up and slips up as 2012 decision nears

By Shannon Travis, CNN
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Riding with Michele Bachmann
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, is a favorite among Tea Party activists
  • A source says she is close to actually announcing a presidential bid
  • CNN rode in a van with Bachmann during her stops in New Hampshire

Nashua, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Anyone wondering: Sarah Palin, who?

At a time when the former Alaska governor appears to be shrinking from the spotlight, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is stepping up as yet another favorite daughter of the conservative movement.

She is also looking more and more like a presidential candidate, most recently in her whirlwind swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. A source tells CNN that the Republican lawmaker is increasingly close to actually announcing a presidential bid.

"It's a momentous decision," she told CNN. "And it's one that I don't take lightly. It will impact the life of our family forever, and mine as well. And so I need to have an inner assurance that this is the right venue for me and the right opportunity at this time to serve the country."

Any Republican vying for the nomination will certainly need to serve up plenty of rhetorical red meat against President Obama to hungry conservatives who are active in the primary voting process. Bachmann has been doing that for a while.

In recent television appearances, political activities and speaking engagements, Bachmann has matched Palin's slams against the president. It appears it's helped her garner her share of affection from conservative activists.

But it remains to be seen whether embarrassing and highly publicized gaffes will affect her presidential chances.

Bachmann flubs historical locales

On Saturday, the Minnesota Republican was in full swing in New Hampshire: speaking at a high school academy in Manchester, headlining a fundraiser in Nashua for the state GOP, and capping her day at a Tea Party-type event in Barrington. On Friday night, Bachmann attended a fundraiser at a private home. But her weekend rollout was not without incident.

At the Nashua fundraiser, protesters crashed the carefully choreographed event. And at the earlier engagement in Manchester, Bachmann said of New Hampshire, "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord."

The battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 were fought in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire.

In the YouTube era, embarrassing moments like those can be replayed over and over with potentially damaging effect -- especially given other gaffes from Bachmann. She recently raised eyebrows with her comments on the nation's founding fathers and slavery. And she was mocked for appearing to look off camera during her post-State of the Union Tea Party response.

CNN rode in a van, exclusively, with Bachmann as she was ferried between her first and second stops in the Granite State.

It was a rare sight: Bachmann and husband Marcus joking with three of their five children; Bachmann putting finishing touches on a speech; and everyone talking about sports.

When the conversation turned to the NBA's Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics, Bachmann lit up and said, "Yeah! Isn't he a great basketball player?" Garnett previously played for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

There was also an all-important family discussion. "How did you sleep last night, you guys?" Bachmann asked her family.

Aside from family, the issue of fiscal responsibility was a matter of concern to the potential candidate.

"We've talked a lot, already this morning, about your great state motto: 'Live free or die,'" Bachmann said at the beginning of her Nashua speech. "And it causes me to think also about the motto of the state of Virginia: 'Death to tyrants!'"

From there, Bachmann -- who is chair of the House Tea Party Caucus -- repeated many of her oft-stated, Tea Party-rhetoric-laced slams. She continued her call for the repeal of "Obamacare," railed against the tax code and federal spending, even repeated a controversial line against the president.

"I said that we have a 'gangster government' running the show down in Washington, D.C. And I don't step back from that statement," Bachmann said at the fundraiser. "Because this is an administration that is intent on taking from its opponents -- and giving to its friends. There's a lot in common with a lot of Chicago's history in this administration."

Obama was not the only president to receive criticism. Bachmann even lashed out at the last Republican to hold the office, calling President George W. Bush "a big spender" as she attacked federal budget deficits under both Republicans and Democrats.

Bachmann also did not support Bush's $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan in 2008.

At least one prominent Tea Party leader is encouraging Bachmann to run for president, while not mentioning Palin.

Though it's not an official endorsement, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips wrote in a message to supporters: "At this point, this movement is going to have to choose a standard bearer for the White House in 2012. It may be a little early to choose that person now, but it is not too early for us to encourage good conservatives to get into the race."

"Run Michele, RUN!" Phillips wrote.

Bachmann said she expects to know whether she is in or out in the next few months.

"There's a natural timeline, and I think that probably sometime this summer a decision will be made, one way or another."